The Leadership Factor: Identifying Leadership Skills and Characteristics Essential For Student Achievement in High Poverty Elementary Schools in the Commonwealth of Virginia
Owens, Anita Michelle
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The success of a school is primarily dependent upon leadership (Marzano, McNulty, and Waters, 2005). A principal's skills greatly impact teaching and learning; thus, the degree to which a school is successful depends on an effective leader with a vision for transforming a school. Research from the early 2000s until now suggests that a challenge exists for schools as they seek to decrease the achievement gap and attain success for all students, especially those in low-income areas (Brock and Groth 2003). In the Commonwealth of Virginia, Title I Schools are classified as 'highly distinguished,' 'distinguished,' 'focus,' or 'priority,' schools, based on standardized test performance. Highly distinguished and distinguished schools are identified as meeting or exceeding state and federal accountability measures, while focus and priority schools are schools with large gaps in student achievement between subgroups. The performance of the principal in schools identified as priority or focus is often at the center of school improvement. Principals are required to develop comprehensive school improvement plans and in some cases may be replaced or demoted if academic improvement is not achieved. The question at the center of this study is, what makes some high poverty schools more successful than others? The purpose of this study was to identify the skills and characteristics critically essential for principals tasked with leading Title I schools to high levels of achievement. Through a three round Delphi method, a panel of experts, to include college instructors, supervisors of principals and Title I school principals, reached consensus at 80% or higher identifying 12 skills and 8 characteristics deemed critically essential for Title I school principals leading students to academic success. Establishing a culture of high expectations, demonstrating knowledge of curriculum, instruction and assessment best practices, establishing a safe, caring and positive climate, and leading by example were among the top skills and characteristics identified by the expert panel. The skills and characteristics identified in this study support current research regarding effective school leaders. The findings and implementations could potentially serve as guidelines for human resources personnel, superintendents, supervisors, practitioners, and leadership preparation programs as they look to improve principal leadership in high poverty schools.
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