Academic journal article School Community Journal

School Leadership, Social Capital, and Community Engagement: A Case Study of an Elementary School in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico

Academic journal article School Community Journal

School Leadership, Social Capital, and Community Engagement: A Case Study of an Elementary School in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico

Article excerpt

Introduction

Cities along the United States-Mexico border have colonias, or unincorporated and unregulated settlements with substandard housing and living conditions. Colonias, which are overwhelmingly populated by Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, present significant challenges for student well-being and academic achievement, including: (a) high proportions of adult illiteracy; (b) severe poverty; (c) lack of access to quality public schools; (d) domestic violence, gang/cartel violence, and other nonviolent crime; (e) government malaise; and (f) a lack of community solidarity (Hernandez & Grineski, 2012; Heyman & Campbell, 2004). Geographic isolation further contributes to limited economic opportunities for families. In Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, individuals in colonias who can secure employment tend to travel far distances and work long hours for less than 400 U.S. dollars a month (Semuels, 2016). The challenges children and families confront are significant, but are further exacerbated by a lack of quality public schools. In Mexico, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2013), fewer than 40% of Mexicans obtain an upper secondary education, female students are less likely to be in school as they move through sixth grade, and schools have the highest student-teacher ratio of all OECD countries. Mexican children living in poverty are also more likely to attend public schools that receive limited funding (OECD, 2013).

Extreme poverty and poorly funded public schools leave few options for children. Yet, the dominant interest of many educational researchers is narrowly focused on in-school reform, while overlooking community-related factors. As Miller and colleagues (2011) stated, "the prevailing thought seems to be if we fix the schools, the rest of the ducks will fall into order, that is, employment and home ownership rates will increase, crime and drug use will go down, and so on" (p. 1080). Similarly, Berliner (2006) asked, "Why do we put so much of our attention and resources into trying to fix what goes on inside low-performing schools when the causes of low performance may reside outside of the school?" (p. 963). Scholarship has focused on broadening school reform efforts to address larger social and community issues (Anyon, 2014; Schutz, 2006), and some researchers shifted attention to the role of school leaders addressing school reform and community-related issues simultaneously (Green, 2015; Khalifa, 2012; Sanders & Harvey, 2002). In this study, I examine the community-oriented leadership practices of a school leader at a community-founded Christian elementary school within a colonia in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. I examine the following research question: "What school leadership actions help to continually strengthen the community while improving student learning?" I begin with a brief discussion of community-oriented school leadership. Next, I describe how social capital theory is used to frame this study and discuss this study's methods. Then, I provide additional context for this study as well as findings. Finally, I conclude with implications for practice and research.

Community-Oriented School Leadership

Unrelenting waves of violence in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico created economic, cultural, social, and psychological problems for colonias (Hernandez & Grineski, 2012). Many families, communities, and households were destabilized from violence, and many citizens lost faith in government (Araujo & de la Piedra, 2013). Children lost access to caregivers, neighbors, community organizations, family, and friends. Some education scholars have emphasized the importance of "tapping a community's assets and creating links between schools and communities" (Gold, Simon, Mundell, & Brown, 2004, p. 56S). Epstein (1987, 1995), argued school and community are "overlapping spheres" where collaborations between school and community can benefit all stakeholders. …

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