Date of Award

Spring 2019

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Committee Chair

Mark M. Miller

Committee Chair School

Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Committee Member 2

David Cochran

Committee Member 2 School

Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Committee Member 3

Julie Reid

Committee Member 3 School

Social Science and Global Studies


Education improves the opportunities and life-chance outcomes of our children, and is a key factory in both economic and community development. Although high school graduation rates have shown improvement nationwide in recent years, public education is suffering from increasing inequality between different school districts and within the same school districts. Such inequalities widen academic outcome gaps and can result in entire school districts being branded as academic failures. However, there is also encouraging evidence of struggling schools and school districts moving toward improvement. Innovative leaders who are committed to inclusive and rigorous academics, shared leadership, and an in-depth understanding of the diversity of their student population are moving their schools toward improved academic performance. Initiatives that involve broad-based community leadership are also producing positive changes in student outcomes, consistent with Collective Impact theory. Using Grounded Theory methodology and mixed research methods, this research has identified two struggling Mississippi school districts that saw F ratings become C ratings, and leadership as the critical key to this change. There is hope for struggling school districts. Although adequate funding and change in the education system is needed, inclusive leaders committed to the whole student can lead a struggling school district into academic success. Ability is inherent in every child; it is the job of administrators, educators, parents, politicians and community members to create a school environment for it to blossom and grow.