Academic journal article Rural Educator

Meeting the Learning Needs of Students: A Rural High-Need School District's Systemic Leadership Development Initiative

Academic journal article Rural Educator

Meeting the Learning Needs of Students: A Rural High-Need School District's Systemic Leadership Development Initiative

Article excerpt

The Principals Excellence Program (PEP), a cohort-based professional development project for administrator-certified practitioners, is one of 24 projects across the United States supported by federal funds from the No Child Left Behind legislation. The three-year program is conducted through a partnership between Pike County School District, a high-need rural system in Central Appalachia, and the University of Kentucky, located 150 miles away. A major goal for PEP is improved school leadership focused on enhanced student learning. Findings in this paper include inprogress evaluations of program impact toward (a) preparing school leaders to promote learning success for all, (b) engaging cohort members in authentic practice with mentor principals, (c) addressing high-stakes accountability issues, and (d) delivering effective leadership preparation. Perspectives from all stakeholder groups (i.e., cohort participants, mentor principals, district leaders, program instructors) are integrated to provide holistic assessment of PEP.

Appalachia is a term that elicits multiple interpretations encompassing the historical development of America, conflicting political perspectives, and distinct cultural traditions (Drake, 2001). Geographically, Appalachia is a region in North America composed of ancient mountains, valleys, waterways, and broad-leafed deciduous forests spanning from Newfoundland in Canada to central Alabama in the United States. Economically, Appalachia is a designation for the approximate 200,000 square mile region from southern New York to northern Mississippi that historically has experienced economic hardship. This area, which hugs the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, includes all of West Virginia and portions of 13 other states, including most of eastern Kentucky (Owens, 2000).

Appalachia is transforming from an economic region of almost uniform poverty and unemployment to one of significant contrasts, changing needs, and divergent prospects. Since 1964, the number of counties classified by the Appalachian Regional Commission as "distressed" (i.e., those with three-year average poverty and unemployment rates at least 1.5 times the nation's average) has reduced from 219 to 111 (Hilston, 2000; Isserman, 1996). Although census data show that the population in Appalachia grew to nearly 23 million people by the close of the 20th century (US Census Bureau, 2000), growth was not uniform. The most dramatic population increases occurred in southern counties adjacent to cities with burgeoning economies such as Atlanta, Birmingham and Huntsville, Asheville and Charlotte, Greenville and Spartanburg, Chattanooga and Knoxville (Drake, 2001). Many counties in Central Appalachia, a mountainous region where 85 percent of the residents live in isolated rural areas, however, continue to be characterized as economically distressed. These counties lost their major source of revenue when the coal mining industry was cut nearly in half in the late 1900s, leaving many residents without employment opportunities and county governments without tax revenues for education (Isserman, 1996; Jones, 2000). Eastern Kentucky counties were among the hardest hit (Drake, 2001).

This paper shares findings from an exploratory case study about an advanced leadership development program for administrator-certified practitioners in a Central Appalachian school district. The goal of the Principals Excellence Program (PEP), one of 24 projects supported by federal funds through the NCLB School Leadership Development Program, is to develop visionary instructional leaders able to increase student learning in high-need rural schools. The program is delivered through a partnership between Pike County School District (PCSD) and the University of Kentucky (UKY). A team of university professors and administrative practitioners facilitates learning experiences in the district for principals, assistant principals, and administrator-certified teachers seeking administrative positions. …

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