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Leadership practices and processes in turnaround schools: A phenomenological multi-case study

Dissertation
Author: Kathleen M. Hickey
Abstract:
The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological multi-case study was to explore the lived experiences and leadership of turnaround principals in order to better understand what it takes to turnaround a school. Turnaround was defined as a documented, quick, dramatic, and sustained change in the performance of the school. The central research question was: How do State Departments of Education identified turnaround principals understand and describe their leadership experiences with bringing documented, quick, dramatic, and sustained change to their schools? Seidman's (2006) model for in-depth phenomenological interviewing was used to structure the three-series interview process. The interviewer utilized an interview guide for the audio-taped interviews. This study reports what was learned through this examination of the lived experiences of six principals who led turnaround schools. The five women and one man interviewed were from the states of Illinois and Indiana. Two represented elementary schools, three were from middle level buildings, and one was from a high school. Their stories, presented in this dissertation, tell how they turned around their schools and include their reflections on how doing that required change and growth. Analysis of the data revealed 10 major themes describing practices and processes of turnaround principals: (1) Listening, (2) Caring, (3) Making reading and writing as priorities, (4) Building relationships, (5) making data-driven decisions, (6) Providing breakfast, lunch, and a snack, (7) Providing after school programs, (8) Analyzing test scores, (9) Having moral standards, and (10) Believing they are called to do the work. Interview transcript analysis also revealed four obstacles or challenges to turnaround: (1) Poverty, (2) Dysfunctional families, (3) Belief that kids cannot learn, and (4) Board members that enable teachers to act independently. Implications were drawn from these conclusions as well as a comparative analysis of themes in the literature review, survey data, and interview data. This comparative analysis revealed collecting and analyzing data to be the highest ranked theme common to all three bodies of information. Knowledge derived from this study has implications for aspiring principals, principals, superintendents, boards of education and colleges of education. Recommendations for practice are in two categories: superintendents and boards, and colleges of education. Topics and processes for future research to deepen knowledge about turnaround principals are offered.

CONTENTS Page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS i CONTENTS iii TABLES viii CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION 1 Statement of the Problem 2 Purpose of the Study 4 Research Questions 4 Research Design 5 Definition of Terms 6 Delimitations and Limitations 7 Delimitations 8 Limitations 8 Significance of the Study 9 Theoretical 9 Practical 9 II. REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE 11 Section One: Historical Overview of School Accountability 11 Legislation 11 The National Defense Education Act of 195 8 12 The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 12 A Nation at Risk Stimulates Reform 13 Principal leadership 15 Illinois reform 15 Indiana reform 16 iii

Restructuring of Education 17 Goals 2000 17 Elementary and Secondary Education Act 19 Comprehensive School Reform Act and Change 19 Standards-based 20 Professional development 20 Effects of NCLB: Reforms, Resources, and Sanctions 21 Accountability 22 Highly-qualified teachers 23 Governors and turnaround 24 A Nation Accountable 25 Research-based strategies 26 Build capacity 27 NCLB Drives Turnaround: Restructuring Options 28 Section Two: Successful Turnarounds 31 Characteristics of Successful Turnarounds 32 Focus on instruction 34 Shared vision and decision-making 38 Plan for "quick wins" 42 Collect and analyze data 44 Align curricula and assessment with standards 48 Build a committed staff 50 Engage the school community 56 Engage in systems thinking 59 Signal the need for change with strong leadership 65 Section Three: Turnaround Principals 73 Leadership Processes and Activities 74 Lived Experiences 78 Summary 79 III. PROCEDURES 82 Purpose of the Study 82 Research Questions 83 Positionality of the Researcher 83 IV

Characteristics of Qualitative Research 84 Qualitative Research Strategies 87 Phenomenological research 87 Case study research 88 Choosing Participants 90 Survey Design and Pilot 90 Survey Distribution and Recruitment 91 Data Collection Procedures 91 Surveys 92 Interviews 92 Interview questions 93 In-depth interviews 94 Observational field notes 94 Document Collection 95 Data Analysis Procedures 96 Strategies for Validating Findings 97 Role of the Researcher 99 Ethical Issues 99 IV. FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION 101 Finding the Participants 101 The States 101 The Survey 102 Survey Responses 103 Stories of Turnaround Principals 104 Elizabeth 104 Creating the culture 111 Improving academic performance 114 Overcoming the challenges 117 Descriptive summary 119 Madeline 121 Creating the culture 125 Improving academic performance 131 v

Overcoming the challenges Descriptive summary 136 138 Monica 139 Creating the culture 143 Improving academic performance 146 Overcoming the challenges 146 Descriptive summary 147 Kate 148 Creating the culture 151 Improving academic performance 154 Overcoming the challenges 156 Descriptive summary 158 Deanna 159 Creating the culture 162 Improving academic performance 165 Overcoming the challenges 165 Descriptive summary 167 Patrick 168 Creating the culture 172 Improving academic performance 173 Overcoming the challenges 174 Descriptive summary 179 Lived Experiences, Recurring Themes 181 Research Question One: Creating the Culture and Improving Academic Performance 182 Research Question Two: Overcoming the Challenges and Obstacles 183 Conclusion 185 V. CONCLUSIONS, IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 186 Conclusions 186 Research Question One: Creating the Culture and Improving Academic Performance 187 Research Question Two: Overcoming the Challenges and Obstacles 196 vi

Implications 201 Comparison of Survey Data with Interview Data 201 Comparison of Themes in the Literature with Themes in the Research 204 Personal Reflection 206 Recommendations 208 For Practice 208 Superintendents and boards 208 Colleges of education 211 For Research 211 Final Thoughts 213 REFERENCES 214 APPENDIX A: E-mail to Prospective Participant 244 APPENDIX B: Survey Questionnaire 246 APPENDIX C: Follow-up E-mail to Prospective Participants 254 APPENDIX D: Interview Guide 256 APPENDIX E: Survey Responses 259 APPENDIX F: Interview Responses to Question One 270 APPENDIX G: Interview Responses to Question Two 273 vn

TABLES Table Page 1. Principals and Their School Demographics 105 2. School A Demographics 105 3. School B Demographics 121 4. School C Demographics 140 5. School D Demographics 148 6. School E Demographics 160 7. School F Demographics 169 8. Comparison Data: Survey vs. Interview Ranking of Themes in Creating a Culture Supporting Achievement 202 9. Comparison Data: Survey vs. Interview Processes and Activities Related to Academic Achievement 203 10. Comparison Data: Literature Review vs. Research Data Common Characteristics of Successful Turnaround Principals 206 viii

CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION Historically, the principal was expected to be a role model in the community, manage the school, direct curricula and maintain the budget. For almost 40 years, the direction of education has been changing and the Federal Government has been steering that change, becoming a driving force in the emerging role of the turnaround principal. Public pressure, reports regarding low student achievement, anticipated economic impact, and a concern with national security produced legislative action resulting in major educational reform. Three major pieces of legislation caused educational leaders to make changes: The Elementary and Secondary Act (Elementary and Secondary Act Public Law 89-10, 1965), Goals 2000 (Goals 2000-Educate America Act Title III Public Law 103- 227, 1994), and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) (No Child Left Behind Act Public Law 107-110,2002). Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) (2002), reauthorizing ESEA and amending the Federal education programs. Under NCLB, the U.S. Department of Education required accountability in the form of assessment, and punishment in the form of sanctions. States were required to set standards and provide annual testing with proficiency levels. Schools that failed to improve received sanctions from the States and loss of funding from the Federal Government (Calkins & Guenther, 2007; Calkins, Guenther, Belfiore, & Lash, 2007b; Leithwood, Seashore Louis, Anderson, & 1

2 Wahlstrom, 2004; Rost, 1993b; Westfall, Peltier, & Sheehan, 2005). NCLB had a profound effect on the role and practices of the principal (Westfall et al., 2005). As a result of the accountability system, principals began to transition from instructional leaders to leaders of learners, creating transforming conditions that result in change, reflecting an influence relationship that reflects mutual purposes (Calkins & Guenther, 2008; First, 2004; Leithwood et al., 2004; Rost, 1993a; Westfall et al, 2005). The accountability focus in the reform movement expanded the principal's scope of work and curricula reforms were a strong force driving change. Principals were at the core of reform and needed to react to numerous fragmented and disconnected change initiatives mandated under NCLB (Church, 2005). Reform reflected a new focus on learning, not just teaching, with a new focus on principals as learning leaders, not as instructional leaders (DuFour, 2002). The task of the principal became centered on closing the gap between teaching and learning, with a new focus on children being able to demonstrate academic achievement. All arrows were aligned at one target: the schools. At the center of the accountability target is the principal. Statement of the Problem Principals are the focus of the reform movement to transform schools from failing to achieving (Church, 2005). As a result of NCLB's focus on high stakes testing, schools are labeled as "failing," given little time to improve, and not all principals are successful. School improvement and school turnaround share similar goals, to raise student achieve ment. However, school turnaround involves a dramatic improvement within a short period of time, whereas school improvement is an incremental process over time (Billman, 2004; Herman et al., 2008; Reynolds, 2008; Rhim, Kowal, Hassel, & Ayscue Hassell, 2007). Although they share commonalities, the school improvement and

turnaround are strikingly different in implementation (Ayscue Hassel & Hassel, 2009; Ayscue Hassel, Hassel, & Steiner, 2008; Murphy, 2008a; Murphy & Meyers, 2008a, 2008b; Rhim et al., 2007). "Turnaround Leadership recasts leadership as part and parcel of a system of transformation" (Fullan, 2006a). Turnaround is difficult, yet there are some turnaround principals who are able to achieve NCLB accountability results. NCLB mandated any state that accepted federal dollars agree to measure and report accountability with a goal to close the achievement gap between the income level and races (Darling-Hammond, 2005; Fiore & Curtin, 1997). NCLB proposed sweeping reform and set a target for all students to be proficient in reading and mathematics by 2013-2014. No child would be forced to attend a failing school, states were required to test annually, reading would be emphasized, and data would be collected. Districts and schools that did not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) would be subject to sanctions. Districts and schools that made progress would be rewarded (Mathis, 2003, 2006). Sanctions included a loss of Title I Part A administrative funds (Boehner, 2004). States had the right to close or restructure schools that failed to make AYP, replacing teachers, principals, and in some cases, superintendents and boards of education (Diehl, 2006; Illinois State Board of Education, 2007; Mathis, 2005). NCLB legislation published lists of schools that failed, sanctioned schools with restructuring and loss of funds, and created a need for failing schools to go through the process of turnaround. Of the 5,000 public schools in the United States, 5% have been identified as chronic failures (Calkins et al., 2007b). NCLB created a need for turnaround principals who were to initiate change resulting in increased student achievement within a short interval of time (Rhim et al., 2007). There is an emerging body of research on high performing schools and research

4 on schools that transitioned over a longer period of time. NCLB requires schools to turnaround in a short period of time. There is little data in educational research regarding the attributes of turnaround elementary, middle school, and high school principals, how schools turn around, and what turnaround principals professionally experience in the turnaround process (Ayscue Hassel & Hassel, 2009; Ayscue Hassel, Hassel, Arkin, Kowal, & Steiner, 2006; Brinson & Morando Rhim, 2009; Herman et al., 2008; Kowal & Ayscue Hassel, 2005; Murphy & Meyers, 2008b; Rhim et al., 2007). Purpose of the Study The purpose of this multi-case study was to explore the lived experiences and leadership of elementary, middle school, and high school turnaround principals in order to better understand what it takes to turnaround a school. Turnaround is defined as a documented, quick, dramatic, and sustained change in the performance of an organization in one to three years (Kowal et. al., 2009; Rhim et al., 2007). Research Questions To determine leadership practices and processes in turnaround schools, this qualitative phenomenological multi-case study focused on the central research question: How do State Departments of Education identified turnaround principals understand and describe their leadership experiences with bringing documented, quick, dramatic, and sustained change to their schools? Sub questions were as noted: 1. What leadership processes and activities did principals in turnaround schools use to create a culture that supported achievement and improved academic performance? 2. How did the turnaround principals face and overcome the major challenges or obstacles to improving student performance?

5 Research Design According to Creswell (2003), phenomenological research results in an understanding of human experiences through emerging similarities found in research and focused around a central phenomenon. Patton (2002) wrote, "Human beings make sense of experience.. .as shared meaning" (p. 104). Phenomenology requires researchers to be cognizant of experiences of participants, to forego prior biases and knowledge, and to seek out essential meanings (Kvale, 1996). Vogt (2005) suggests the use of case study methodology for the purpose of using examples as a method of studying the broader phenomenon. Yin (2009) believes case study methodology allows the researcher to retain holistic and meaningful characteristics of events. Seidman (1998) argues that the root of phenomenological interviewing is an understanding of meaning made by others through their experiences and the heart of interviewing lies in the worth of individuals studied. This researcher used phenomenological multi-case study inquiry strategies and associated processes for data collection regarding experience of participants and analyzed data for patterns, relationships, and emerging themes (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998; Creswell, 2003; Moustakas, 1994; Patton, 2002; Seidman, 1998, 2006; Stake, 1995; Yin, 2009). The researcher reviewed literature on turnaround principals to determine interview questions and to discover what is unknown (Yin, 2009). Research design incorporated three kinds of data collection: distribution of a survey, open-ended interviews, and examination of written and electronic documents (Patton, 2002). This researcher inter viewed principals within their natural context (Seidman, 2006; Yin, 2009). Participants were identified as turnaround principals, having brought about a quick, dramatic and sustained change in student achievement. Six administrators were chosen from a geographic convenience sample based on the database provided by Illinois State Board of

6 Education and Indiana Department of Education highlighting academic achievement. Phenomenological research was chosen in part because of the personal turnaround experiences of this researcher and her ongoing interest in the leadership practices and processes of turnaround leaders (Merriam, 1998; Moustakas, 1994). Definition of Terms Accountability Movement is a phrase applied to an era beginning in 1983 with the release of A Nation at Risk and includes standards-driven instruction, high-stakes testing, rewards and sanctions for performance, and a media focused on education (Illinois State Board of Education, 2007). Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) describes the measure used by each state to set and record each public school and school district achievement. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 sets a goal for all students to meet or exceed standards in reading and mathematics (Illinois State Board of Education, 2007). High-performing Schools focus on academics and have expectations that all children can and will achieve academic proficiency. The principal provides the staff with strong and effective instructional leadership. As a result, parents have confidence in the school. Funds are dedicated to support the school's mission (United States Department of Education, 2006). Magnet Schools are able to accept students from any geographic area in the district. The schools are centered on a specific academic or ethnic theme. Magnet schools are subject to desegregation goals that promote a racially integrated student body (Allensworth & Rosenkranz, 2000). NCLB is an acronym used to describe the No Child Left Behind law. NCLB was signed into law January 8, 2002. It is the latest revision of the 1965 Elementary and

7 Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and is regarded as the most significant federal education policy initiative in a generation (Illinois State Board of Education, 2007). Rural Distant refers to a school's location relative to a populous area as defined by the census territory that is between 5 and 25 miles from an urbanized area, as well as rural territory that is more than 2.5 miles but less than or equal to 10 miles from an urban cluster (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2009). School Improvement is an NCLB rating which describes a school that has not made annual yearly progress for two consecutive years. Choice, the ability of a parent to send a child in a failing school to another school, must be offered in the first year and in the second year, the school must provide supplemental services, and free tutoring (Illinois State Board of Education, 2007). Title I is a term that refers to a set of programs to distribute funding to schools and districts with at least 40% of students from low-income families. Schools receiving these funds are referred to as, "Title I" schools, regulated by NCLB. Most funds are distributed to preschool, kindergarten, and elementary schools (Illinois State Board of Education, 2007). Turnaround is defined as a documented, quick, dramatic, and sustained change in the performance of an organization in one to three years (Kowal et. al., 2009; Rhim et al., 2007). Delimitations and Limitations Delimitations and limitations establish boundaries for qualitative research. Delimitations narrow the variables in a study. Limitations refer to potential weaknesses in the study (Creswell, 2003).

8 Delimitations Research was limited to experiences of principals in turnaround schools in Illinois and Indiana. Participants were six administrators from a geographic convenience sample. The sample was based on the Illinois State Board of Education and the Indiana Department of Education websites with intent to have a balance and variety regarding type of school (elementary, middle school, or high school), principal gender, school enrollment, and school location (city, rural or suburban). The research did not include other principals, perceptions of staff, parents, or students. Findings in this phenomenological multi-case study were determined from perspectives of participants and cannot be generalized to other populations. Limitations This research was limited by a selection bias in that participants were six administrators chosen from a geographic convenience sample. Additionally, research was limited as a result of identification of participants using the Illinois State Board of Education and the Indiana Department of Education websites. A potential limitation was the researcher's subjectivity. Familiarity with the experience may have influenced the investigation. The researcher was cognizant of her experiences as a former principal and superintendent and of how her experiences may have affected the study (Creswell, 2003). Interaction with selection may be a factor due to the bias of the researcher who might influence questions or the outcome (Creswell, 2005). A limitation to the interview process might have been emerging questions. Furthermore, there was an assumption of truthfulness of the participants. Finally, purposeful sampling may have limited usefulness of these findings to other principals.

9 Significance of the Study Theoretical This research focuses on similarities and differences in leadership practices of turnaround principals. Results may contribute to knowledge regarding turnaround principals. Findings may describe emerging patterns in leadership practices and processes employed by the participants. These results may be of significance to researchers, professional organizations within education, principals, superintendents and Boards of Education who are in or have failing schools. In addition, results may be of significance to colleges and universities redesigning and reforming their principal preparation programs to meet Preschool-12 needs under the system of accountability from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). These results may contribute to the literature on principal preparation (Cibulka, 2009). Practical Evidence that leadership makes a difference in student learning continues to emerge (Leithwood et al., 2004; Miller, 2006; Waters, Marzano, & McNulty, 2003). However, there is little research on high-performing leaders in turnaround settings (Ayscue Hassel & Hassel, 2009; Ayscue Hassel et al., 2008; Herman et al., 2008; Kowal & Ayscue Hassel, 2005; Murphy & Meyers, 2008b; Rhim et al., 2007). This study con tributes to filling that gap in the literature. Research and findings regarding characteristics of high-performing schools exist in greater numbers than studies about the turnaround process (United States Department of Education, 2001). The review of literature reveals that over the past 35 years, fewer than 70 studies examine the relationship between principals and student achievement (Marzano, Waters, & McNulty, 2005). There appears to be no consistent, reliable, pattern of turnaround success anywhere in the nation

10 (Calkins et al., 2007b). The results of the phenomenological multi-case study on similarities and differences in leadership practices of turnaround principals may reveal practices and processes other principals can use to direct change necessary to increase student achievement and turn around their underperforming schools.

CHAPTER II REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE The purpose of the review of literature was to establish a context for the findings of this multi-case study of the lived experiences and leadership practices and processes of principals. The first section presents a history of the development of the current school accountability processes. The second section presents characteristics of successful turnaround schools, and the third section highlights research specifically focused on principals of turnaround schools. Section One: Historical Overview of School Accountability To establish an historical overview of the development of the high-stakes testing and accountability movement as actualized in the NCLB legislation, review of the literature begins with an overview of litigation, legislation, and other activity leading up to NCLB. It will demonstrate how NCLB legislation leads to failing schools, severe sanctions, and the need for turnaround principals. One of the outcomes of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) (No Child Left Behind Act Public Law 107-110, 2002) legislation is the labeling of schools as "failing." The NCLB legislation may be the tipping point for education and provide the momentum for a new type of leadership in schools, that of turnaround principals. Legislation Traditionally, education was governed by the states. Litigation and world events led to increased involvement of the federal government in education. 11

12 The National Defense Education Act of 1958 In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first orbiting satellite, and posed a threat to national defense. Responding to the threat, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) in 1958 stimulating the advancement of education in mathematics, science and foreign languages, identifying academically talented students and expanding testing programs (De Young & Wynn, 1964; Diehl, 2006). The National Science Foundation funded professional development for teachers in science education, foreign language, mathematics, science and engineering (Nelson & Weinbaum, 2006). However, in 1961, the Great Cities Program for School Improvement, which became the Council of Great City Schools, appealed directly to Congress and funds targeted for high achieving students were directed toward culturally deprived students (Nelson & Weinbaum, 2006). The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. In addition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson led Congress to pass the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) (Elementary and Secondary Act Public Law 89-10, 1965). A result of Johnson's War on Poverty, Title I provided funding for professional develop ment, materials, educational programs and parent involvement programs in low-income and low-achieving students. Although Senator Robert Kennedy was not able to garner sufficient support to attach an accountability system to the Act, the discussion regarding accountability and academic achievement had been initiated (Nelson & Weinbaum, 2006). In 1972, Congress authorized the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a national system testing and reporting academic achievement in the "Nation's Report Card" (Nelson & Weinbaum, 2006). This was the first time the federal government used federal funds to measure academic achievement (Indiana Department of Education Division of Student Assessment, 2008; United States Department of

13 Education, 2008a). In 1974 ESEA was reauthorized and flowed funds to non-English speakers in bi-lingual programs. In 1975, President Ford signed the landmark Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142) recognizing the civil rights of handicapped children. Responding to political influence from the National Education Association (NEA), President Carter created the United States Department of Education; appointed Shirley Hufstedler, a Federal Judge from California, as the first Secretary of Education; and led Congress to pass the Department of Education Organization Act (Nelson & Weinbaum, 2006; Vinovskis, 1999). A Nation at Risk Stimulates Reform The National Commission on Excellence in Education issued a report in 1983, A Nation at Risk. The Commission consisted of university presidents, scientists, policy makers and educators (United States Department of Education, 2008). The Commission reported on the mediocre educational performance of our students and our schools and wrote: If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have even squandered the gains in student achievement made in the wake of the Sputnik challenge. Moreover, we have dismantled essential support systems which helped make those gains possible. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament. (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983, p. 5) The report was a shock to the Nation. The United States of America was no longer the world leader in education. Illiteracy was rampant. Twenty-three million American adults were functionally illiterate in reading, writing, and comprehension. Thirteen percent of 17-year-old students and 40% of minority youth were functionally illiterate (United States Department of Education, 2008). College entrance test scores

14 showed a downward trend and students who entered college required remedial courses (Jorgensen & Hoffman, 2003; National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). The future of the Nation was, indeed, at risk. The Commission made major recommendations in content, standards and expectations, time spent on instruction, teaching and leadership, and fiscal support. Recommended changes to curricula were known as the New Basics. High school students would take 4 years of English and 3 years of mathematics, science and social studies. In addition, they were to take a half year of computer science with a strong recommendation for 2 years of foreign language and an expectation for some coursework in the fine and performing arts (Kaiser, 1996; National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). The Commission reported more than 50% of gifted students were not performing at their potential and referred to them as a national resource stating it was far more costly to allow mediocrity in our educational system than it would be to support excellence (National Commission on Excellence in Education, April, 1983). Funds were to be directed to meet their needs and the needs of disadvantaged students, minority, language minority, and handicapped students (Jorgensen & Hoffman, 2003). States were to develop academic standards and begin standards-based testing. It was time for reform and accountability. The Commission recommended data collection, supporting improvement in curricula, research on teaching and learning, and management of schools would be under the auspices of the Federal Government. Every educational institution, including colleges and universities were to adopt measurable standards for academic performance. College admission requirements for 4-year universities and colleges were to be raised (Jorgensen & Hoffman, 2003; National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). Initially

Full document contains 288 pages
Abstract: The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological multi-case study was to explore the lived experiences and leadership of turnaround principals in order to better understand what it takes to turnaround a school. Turnaround was defined as a documented, quick, dramatic, and sustained change in the performance of the school. The central research question was: How do State Departments of Education identified turnaround principals understand and describe their leadership experiences with bringing documented, quick, dramatic, and sustained change to their schools? Seidman's (2006) model for in-depth phenomenological interviewing was used to structure the three-series interview process. The interviewer utilized an interview guide for the audio-taped interviews. This study reports what was learned through this examination of the lived experiences of six principals who led turnaround schools. The five women and one man interviewed were from the states of Illinois and Indiana. Two represented elementary schools, three were from middle level buildings, and one was from a high school. Their stories, presented in this dissertation, tell how they turned around their schools and include their reflections on how doing that required change and growth. Analysis of the data revealed 10 major themes describing practices and processes of turnaround principals: (1) Listening, (2) Caring, (3) Making reading and writing as priorities, (4) Building relationships, (5) making data-driven decisions, (6) Providing breakfast, lunch, and a snack, (7) Providing after school programs, (8) Analyzing test scores, (9) Having moral standards, and (10) Believing they are called to do the work. Interview transcript analysis also revealed four obstacles or challenges to turnaround: (1) Poverty, (2) Dysfunctional families, (3) Belief that kids cannot learn, and (4) Board members that enable teachers to act independently. Implications were drawn from these conclusions as well as a comparative analysis of themes in the literature review, survey data, and interview data. This comparative analysis revealed collecting and analyzing data to be the highest ranked theme common to all three bodies of information. Knowledge derived from this study has implications for aspiring principals, principals, superintendents, boards of education and colleges of education. Recommendations for practice are in two categories: superintendents and boards, and colleges of education. Topics and processes for future research to deepen knowledge about turnaround principals are offered.