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Jacobson, S. (2011). Leadership effects on student achievement and sustained school success. The International Journal of Educational Management, 25(1), 33-44.

The purpose of this study was to ascertain the effects of school leadership practices – especially of the Principal – on sustained school success under the conditions of high poverty.  The study was conducted because of the increasing evidence suggesting a more direct influence of Principal leadership (not just teacher instruction) on student outcomes.

This study was a specific analysis of the qualitative studies done by the International Successful School Principalship Project (ISSPP) which include 15 nations creating a database chronicling what successful school leaders did to produce higher levels of student outcomes across multiple contexts.  The original researchers used the same semi-structured interview process transnationally to collect data from principals, teachers, staff, parents and students.  Quality school leadership was assessed using the three core leadership practices identified by Leithwood and Riehl (2005): direction setting, people development, and organization redesign.

Initial findings of the ISSPP show that all three core practices were evident in all context studied, but varied largely based on national context.  For example, the cases studied in the United States show direction setting to be much more short-term and linked to government standards, while

in Australia principals tended to focus much more on lifelong learning, and Norway, Denmark and Sweden tended to focus on goals clustered around responsible democratic citizenship.

Of the original 65 ISSPP cases, 13 (20 percent) were considered high poverty. As for successful leadership in these high poverty schools, the strongest theme was equitable education in a socially just environment that extended from the school into the community.   Other major findings include:

persistence, enthusiasm, and optimism, the belief that all students could perform highly, and the necessity of including parents and other members of the community in school life and decision-making.

Additionally, principals in high poverty schools tended overwhelmingly to focus firstly on creating and maintaining a safe (i.e. physically secure and nonviolent) school building and an inviting learning environment within the building.

In order to determine the longer term effects of these principals, ISSPP teams returned to some of the original sites five years later.  Three scenarios presented themselves: the principal remained in their position, the principal was no longer at the school (retirement), or the principal had moved to another school and possibly began another successful school improvement process.  One site in the United States retained their principal after five years, and in order to sustain her school’s improvement she reorganized the governance structure of the school.  One other principal remained but was unable to maintain the school’s improvement.  The rest of the Principals had either retired or moved to a district office.

The researchers suggested the following lines for future research: what happens to successful schools after their principals leave?  What leadership practices are required to sustain school improvements over time?  Are leaders able to transfer their methods of school improvement from one school to another?  What is the role of succession planning in sustaining school improvement?