Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Patricia L. Reeves


This research examined the leadership practices of rural superintendents who have led their districts to significant improvement in student academic achievement. The overall research goal was to examine how Waters' and Marzano's six correlates of effective superintendent leadership practice have been applied by school leaders who have successfully pursued academic reform in their rural school districts. A multiple case study approach was used to examine the work practices of seven superintendents leading rural school districts in Michigan where student academic performance was on the rise.

A criterion-based selection methodology was used to identify the superintendent subjects and their districts. A total of twenty-seven interviews were conducted with the seven school leaders and with board trustees, teachers and principals from each district. Qualitative coding techniques were used to develop common leadership priorities, practices and philosophies for the purposes of cross-case analysis. This cross-case analysis produced three common leadership priorities, six common leadership philosophies and a total of 57 commonly-cited leadership practices.

The three common leadership priorities were: (a) All students can and will achieve academic success, (b) A high quality teacher in each classroom, and (c) Creating resources. The six common leadership philosophies were: (a) Transparency, (b) Proximity, (c) Autonomy, (d) Constructive Confrontation, (e) Making Hard Choices, and (f) Celebration.

The findings of this study were consistent with Waters' and Marzano's six correlates of effective leadership practice. The leadership practices exhibited by rural superintendents and cited in this study closely mirrored five of the six correlates. Additionally seven new findings from this study extend beyond Waters and Marzano and add to the literature base.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access