Whole school reform in progress: Examining leadership in the restructuring and reculturing of an urban small learning community

Audra M Philippon, University of Pennsylvania


Facing state mandates to reform and public dissatisfaction with drop poor student performance, East Bridgetown High School (EBHS) reorganized from a comprehensive, traditional high school into small learning communities with career themes, loosely following the High School To Work model. This is a case study applying Heifetz' (1994) practical model of leadership as adaptive work to document the process of change, not the results of change. Like reform efforts in hundreds of other urban high schools, this one aims to provide students with a rigorous and a relevant education. The school is surrounded by external consultants and willing partners. It has a passionate and determined new principal, an enviable budget, and an experienced district superintendent committed to meaningful change. Like many other urban high schools too, EBHS' administrators and teachers were overwhelmed by the complexity of the change process and the organizational and pedagogical implications of their own whole school reform model. This ethnographic case study describes and analyzes EBHS' first year of implementation, following one small learning community and its leadership. How did this community develop? What assumptions made by educators here about their students, teachers' role in reform, and the purpose(s) of school drove or impeded reform? What were the implications of the top-down decision to reorganize? What kind(s) of leadership encouraged teachers to consider those assumptions and their pedagogy? What induced change, really? An epilogue offers more data and reflects back on EBHS at the end of its second year of implementation. Findings underscore the efficacy of restructuring the high school as a catalyst for deeper, cultural and pedagogical reform, given the socio-historical and political context. School leadership must focus on building capacity for self-sustaining, personal and organizational problem-solving in a complex and ambiguous climate. External partnerships, built on trust and a commitment to its needs, provide powerful pressure to raise expectations of students' abilities and effective support mechanisms for teacher learning.

Subject Area

Secondary education|School administration|Vocational education

Recommended Citation

Philippon, Audra M, "Whole school reform in progress: Examining leadership in the restructuring and reculturing of an urban small learning community" (2001). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3015441.