Date of Paper/Work


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Sarah Noonan, Thomas Fish, Karen Westberg


This qualitative case study investigated experiences of veteran superintendents serving small, rural Colorado school districts during the reform era dominated by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Sixteen participants told of events and recollected leading districts in small, rural communities where they worked and lived. Superintendents described NCLB’s impact on their leadership and shared portraits of the human side of change. The study revealed people and place went through transitions, and schooling evolved into a different tradition of education. Portraits evidenced rural lifeworld as context for small, rural districts, which made an impact on superintendent leadership. Superintendents experienced dilemmas and demands. The executive officers struggled to reconcile external demands with the realities of schooling in their districts. Superintendents in low-performing districts optimized reform and led organizations to improved student achievement. Superintendents in adequate and high-performing districts resisted, deflected pressures, and maintained high student achievement. Participants described results and residuals. All the superintendents pushed back on some aspects of the reform, buffered staff, and developed wariness of external reform, along with some cynicism. Bridges and Bridges’ (2016) managing change theory explained transitions people and place progressed through during the decade. The concept of lifeworld (Habermas, 1987) clarified the innately understood but mostly invisible context behind leadership in rural settings. Superintendents led from structural, human resource, political and symbolic frames (Bolman & Deal, 2014). Overall, participants emerged from the decade as coherence makers (Fullan & Quinn, 2016).


superintendents, leadership, rural education, change management, lifeworld, organizational lifecycle, institutional renewal, leadership frames, Coherence Framework, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Race to the Top (RTTT), education reform

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

This file may be slow to open due to its size. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."

Included in

Education Commons