Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

A Phenomenological Study of the Leadership Experiences of the Charter School Founder-Administrator in Florida

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

A Phenomenological Study of the Leadership Experiences of the Charter School Founder-Administrator in Florida

Article excerpt

Founders of charter schools have been the focus of some research, but little has been written about the actual day-to-day leadership needs of charter schools in facilitating real change (Dressler, 2001, p. 171).

Traditionally, businesses are often founded by someone who does not take an active role in the day-to-day operations of the organization. However, when the founder is also an employee involved in the daily operation of the business, lessons can be learned by understanding the perspective they use when making decisions, problem solving, and collaborating with all stakeholders (Strickland, 2005). Many charter schools are run by nonprofit Charter Management Organizations (CMO) and for-profit Educational Management Organizations (EMO). These groups oversee the management and administration of the school. Another group of charter schools are considered freestanding. They are not affiliated with these organizations and are also referred to as independent and mom and pop charter schools. Running a freestanding charter school is akin to running a small business (Bierlein & Mulholland, 1994).

There is little doubt that a freestanding charter school founder who remains in the school as an administrator faces challenges, obstacles, and barriers. Regardless of the similarities and differences, it is important to note that leaders as managers and leaders as educators must be equipped with business and academic expertise and a level of leadership acumen needed to effectively manage and operate the charter school organization as an evolving infrastructure (Consoletti, 2011; Cravens, Goldring, & Penaloza, 2012; Wilkens, 2013).

Missing from the current charter school literature is an exploration of the day-to-day experiences of those who serve as both charter school founders and administrators. It is from within this context that this phenomenological study sought to understand how a cadre of individuals who have served simultaneously as a charter school founder and administrator described how they functioned in the dual roles of managing and leading the daily operations of a charter school. The central question guiding this study asked, "How do charter school leaders who serve as founders and administrators describe their experiences as academic and business leaders?"

Literature Review

The following review of the literature focuses on charter school leadership. The discussion begins with the process of opening the doors of a new charter school. This is followed by the related research on accountability and challenges. We conclude this brief review with the literature on leaders as managers and leaders as educators. While this is not an exhaustive review, it does provide context for the findings from the current study.

Opening the Doors

The literature reflects on the rigorous procedures and requirements expected for individuals interested in opening a charter school. Additionally, statistics were reported with respect to the number of charter schools that have opened and closed their doors in recent years across the country and in the state of Florida.

According to the Florida Department of Education (2012), charter schools have grown significantly in the state of Florida to 518.... During 2010-2012 an additional 100 new charter schools opened in Florida. The number of closed charter schools stands at 192. The number one reason for failures appears to be financial, the second is academic, and the third is the decision on the part of the founders to close due to low enrollment. (as cited in Karanxha, 2013, p. 578)

As reported in the charter school research, potential pitfalls and school failure include but are not limited to financial and organizational mismanagement (Consoletti, 2011). Wilkens (2013) reiterates similar language reinforcing the essence of financial and organizational mismanagement that leads to failure or how to "lose your charter" (p. …

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