The process of replicating a small middle school design: A qualitative study of four principals' perspectives
My multiple-case study of four Directions Middle School (DMS) principals examined how they described and understood the process—facilitated by the organization Model Schools, Inc. (MSI)—of replicating a successful New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) small school design from its inception through the present. My research explored the participants' perspectives of adoption and adaptation of the model, sources of support, challenges, and the strengths and weaknesses of their replication process.
I used Seidman's (2006) approach in conducting three 90-minute in-depth interviews with four DMS principals and collected documents for the purpose of developing and understanding their schools' contexts and formulating interview questions based on their replication experiences. I analyzed data using emic codes based on the participants' own words as well as etic codes based on the literature, and grouped these into matrices for within- and across-site comparisons (Miles & Huberman, 1994). I also crafted analytic profiles in response to analytic questions (Seidman, 2006) and created narrative summaries (Maxwell & Miller, 1998).
My study found that while the principals unanimously described and understood that their experience of replication shifted from a stricter adherence to the DMS model to a more adaptive approach allowing for greater flexibility, each principal described the DMS model differently. They also made decisions to adopt and adapt the school design in various ways based on unique contextual factors (e.g., demographics, geographic location) as well as challenges inherent in new small school development (e.g., sharing a building). While the principals described sources of support particularly among former colleagues, each had individual perspectives on what support looked like.
Recommendations for the NYC DOE, MSI, and other organizations pursuing small school replications included re-thinking school buildings as facilities with multiple schools. While these schools may offer sources of support by sharing resources, school developers must anticipate the challenges that arise from sharing space and offer strategies for managing these challenges. School replicators should also consider adaptations as inevitable due to contextual influences on the replication process. Thus, while models should be clear and defined, there must be flexibility for leaders to adapt the school design.
0533: Secondary education