Building school culture through reform in a successful urban public school

Colleen O'Connor, University of Pennsylvania


The following research highlights the impact of building a strong school culture in one successful urban Turnaround school. From changes to the environment to increased professional development, from the impact on student and parent engagement to the changes in professional expectations for staff, it seems there was no area of the school that wasn’t positively impacted by focusing on improving the school’s culture. It highlights a school that moved from being arguably the lowest performing elementary school in the state to a school that had measurable and steady improvements in student achievement over a four year span. This research presents a success story told through the lens of the culture-building that the seasoned leader prioritized and insisted was most critical to their Turnaround efforts. Despite massive reform and the pressures of accountability, the leader’s insistence on shaping the culture in every aspect of the school paid off. The staff too experienced this improved culture as critical to their Turnaround and sustained success. Given the fact that this school generated steady success in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the state, this local story has much to teach like and unlike settings. Additionally, this Principal’s ability to strengthen her school culture through the implementation of massive reform provides district and school-based leaders ways to couple culture-building and reform in effective ways. This research identifies and extrapolates the key findings that are replicable and urgently relevant to public schools everywhere that are struggling to find a balance between answering the call of heavy reform while creating school cultures that meet the needs of students and staff, and create lasting and sustainable school-wide improvement. Finally, this research provides an example of a successful leader who invested in the culture, despite pressures to focus on other urgent matters perceived to be more directly related to student achievement. This research provides an invitation to leaders who wish to build school cultures that will prove foundational to substantial and lasting success.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Organizational behavior

Recommended Citation

O'Connor, Colleen, "Building school culture through reform in a successful urban public school" (2016). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI10241312.