Purdue University Graduate School
Marci Shepard Dissertation.pdf (1.28 MB)

Profiles and Lived Experiences of Superintendents Using Improvement Science

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posted on 2022-07-15, 18:53 authored by Marci L ShepardMarci L Shepard


Education reforms aimed at improving student outcomes often fail because they are top-down and do not successfully scale to wider use. Over the past two decades, improvement science, which uses disciplined inquiry to solve district problems at scale, has emerged as a solution. This multi-case study investigated the question: What are the profiles and lived experiences of superintendents who use improvement science? Data for this study were collected through semi-structured interviews with three superintendents who were part of a superintendent network that focused on improvement science. The superintendents were from diverse districts: A regional Education Services District, an urban school district, and a suburban school district. Data were analyzed through themes that emerged in the literature and data. Four key findings were gleaned: Superintendents need to 1) prioritize a positive workplace culture, 2) shift ownership to staff, 3) support staff in sharing and risk taking, and 4) shift to the use of measurements at the team-level. Three recommendations stemmed from the findings and literature: Superintendents should 1) foster a workplace culture emphasizing ownership and vulnerability, 2) ensure implementation is user-centered, and 3) focus on solving the most pressing problems connected to student outcomes. Action steps for each recommendation are provided. Superintendent profiles showed them to be leaders who improve the workplace culture, are equity-driven, are vulnerable and reflective, are instructional leaders and system thinkers, and are collaborative. Yet they are still working toward staff taking ownership of improvement efforts. In essence, staff implementation has not caught up to superintendent vision. This study suggests if superintendents build capacity around a positive workplace culture and a user-centered, problem-specific approach, districts will be able to solve the most pressing student equity gap problems at scale.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Educational Studies

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Marilyn Hirth

Additional Committee Member 2

Alice Johnson

Additional Committee Member 3

Richard Olenchak

Additional Committee Member 4

LaMonica Williams

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