Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

RESILIENT SCHOOLS: Connections between Districts and Schools

Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

RESILIENT SCHOOLS: Connections between Districts and Schools

Article excerpt

High-performing, at-risk schools are not all equal in the challenges they face and the resources available. This study extends the research on at-risk schools by expanding the definition of at-risk to include risk factors beyond poverty. In addition, the study explicitly examines possible differences between district and school-level factors. Using mixed methods, 23 interviews were conducted with both district and school personnel. Overall, when both the prevalence and frequency of factors mentioned in the interviews are examined, three themes emerged; administrative support, professional collaboration and academic support programs. Differences between district and school personnel are also examined. It is hoped that the themes identified can help inform all schools of successful practices for supporting academic achievement.

For the last 30 years, the topic and study of resiliency has often been understood as an individual's ability to thrive despite significant adversity (Goldstein & Brooks, 2005). The focus of resiliency research has most often been an examination of a quality or trait residing within an individual (Goldstein & Brooks, 2005). However, organizations and social systems can also perform above expectations given their high stress and/or high risk environments and can be considered resilient. Several researchers have examined resilient families (cf. Breton, 2001; Walsh, 2005) and organizations, such as high performing-high risk schools (Adler & Fisher, 2001; Carter, 2000; Daggett, 2005; Donnely, Kokkinis, & Rose, 2007; Henderson & Milstein, 2003; Hughes, 1999; Kannapel, Clements, Taylor, & Hibpshman, 2005; Manset et. al. 2004; McGee, 2004; Picucci, Brownson, Kahlert, Picucci, & Sobel, 2002; Ragland, Clubine, Constable, & Smith, 2002). A common theme in the research examining high performing-high risk schools is defining high-risk schools as schools that serve impoverished youth.

Kindergarten to Grade 12 public schools (k-12) represent a unique organization in terms of their multilayered structure for the study of resiliency. K-12 schools face risks and protective factors at the community, district, school building, and classroom levels. An ecological theoretical framework is often the best way to understand the multilayered structure of K-12 education (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 1989, 1993, 1998). Different factors within the community, district, school building, and classroom levels mean that impoverished, high performing-high risk schools are not all equal in the risks they face and resources available. It is also possible that additional factors combine with poverty to create a more varied gradient of risk exposure for high performing-high risk schools. The current study examines five schools in the American Midwest that exemplify resilient schools. They are all within communities facing severe stressors and/or risks. All of the schools have consistently produced above average student achievement. The study utilizes information from the community, district, and school building levels following an ecological systems theoretical framework in an effort to understand factors of high risk schools that lead to academic success, thus making them resilient schools.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Several studies have examined high-performing, high-poverty schools at the district level (Donnely et al., 2007; McGee, 2004) or at the school building level (Adler & Fisher, 2001; Picucci et al., 2002). While these studies have not explicitly called high-performing-highpoverty schools "resilient," the combination of severe risk with high performance meets the common definition of resiliency. At the district level, resiliency is supported by a tight-knit administration and faculty (Donnely et al., 2007) and an organizational structure that allows for easy communication between the administration, teachers and staff (McGee, 2004). Research on capacity suggests that organizations, like districts, that possess these qualities have higher performance (Flaspohler, Duffy, Wandersman, Stillman, & Maras, 2008). …

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