Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Sarah J. Noonan

Second Advisor

Seehwa Cho

Third Advisor

Robert J. Brown


This descriptive historical case study, presented as a sort of means of coming to terms with the past, details a 1980 to 1982 declining-enrollment decision-making process which led to the closure of one of three high schools in the suburban, midwestern Robbinsdale Area Schools. Following the district’s expansion from a first-ring suburbia with small-town roots to include further westward second-ring additions, this school-closing dilemma provided fertile ground for a conflict pitting the old middle and blue collar classes on the district’s east side against the new middle and professional classes on its west side.

History, tradition, community identity, and community bonds locked horns with modernity, as educational, cultural, and class issues, as well as administrative missteps, including participative democracy run amok, all intertwined during the year-long battle over which high school to close. Although all sides placed great faith in scientific, factual, and objective outlooks, it seemed impossible for these to calm the underlying forces. The concluding triumph of the new middle class over the old middle class through the unexpected, last-minute 1982 closure of the district’s flagship school, Robbinsdale High, brought with it a sense that an injustice had occurred, one based on power and privilege, leaving lasting scars on a community.

An expansive literature review offers an historical overview of school consolidation, including rural consolidation, over the past 100 years, with specific attention to the management of declining enrollment in the late 20th century. The study incorporates this previous research on school consolidation, the views of 41 interview participants, as well as the critical theoretical perspectives of Habermas (1975), Foucault (1980), Apple (1990), Eagleton (1991), and Brookfield (2005), to inform and analyze this school-closure process. The story is portrayed as a social and critical history of struggle within a community, with particular focus on class interests, power, and the control of discourse.

The study concludes that within school-consolidation decisions, leaders should reconsider the value of smallness, respect the limitations of technical rationality, balance business and efficiency models with social and human considerations of fairness and equity, and honor the sacredness of place, local culture, values, history, and tradition.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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