Because of increasing student enrollment, a new school was formed in a small low-income Southern California school district. Teachers could choose to transfer to the new school or remain at the existing school. Over five years, quantitative analyses of demographic data showed little differences between the two schools across the years except for a difference in student academic achievement. This mixed-method study examined the demographics and perceptions of academic life at these two middle schools to ascertain an explanation for differences in academic achievement as measured by the same standardized test. Team interviews combined the focus group approach within teams, followed by a teacher survey to seven components of school life and ideas for school reform. Qualitative analyses of in-depth team interviews with 90% of the faculty and individual interviews of four administrators at both schools revealed more similarities than differences within the seven components. They perceived both sites as safe, applying shared discipline plans, functioning well with teachers organized into instructional teams, applying a variety of instructional methods, supporting at-risk students, and expressed concerns regarding parent involvement and the quality of professional development. Differences were noted in teachers' interest or use of the instructional practices of block scheduling and looping at both schools. Teachers desired more input into professional development and a plan that connected such activities to student academic achievement. Teachers and administrators expressed a desire to utilize more strategies to improve parent involvement at each site. The major difference between the two schools was faculty attitude toward administrators' behavior. Almost all teachers shared that they were part of decision-making; but, at the original site, the teachers indicated that administration did not follow-through on their decisions. Nine teachers left this school. At the new school, faculty perceived that administrators were supportive and empowered teachers. Two teachers left this school. Administrators and teachers suggested next steps for their site to be: (a) leadership support and follow-through for teacher decision-making at the original school, (b) shared decision-making for professional development at both schools, (c) utilize more strategies for parent involvement, and (d) implement extra-curricular activities or student intervention program.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Educational leadership, administration and policy; Middle schools -- California, Southern; Middle school teachers -- California, Southern; Academic achievement

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Hiatt-Michael, Diana B.;