An action research study to examine leadership practices in meeting academic and social emotional needs of at-risk students in an alternative school
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This action research study examined my leadership practices as a principal in meeting the academic and social emotional needs of at-risk students in an alternative school. Recent history has seen a push for standards-based reform with the expectation that all students, including those attending alternative settings, achieve higher academic standards. Since 2005, in the State of New York, all students must pass five exams in high school to achieve a Regents diploma. Students with and without disabilities are referred to alternative schools primarily due to behavioral difficulties. Traditionally, therefore, these programs aim at addressing social emotional issues with academics taking a back seat. Clearly, there exists a tension in responding to these two areas but the need for a dual focus has emerged. This study provides an in-depth narrative and analysis of how an academic agenda, which focused on using curriculum mapping and the incorporation of Wagner's (or other reference) 21 st century skills Wagner (2008), and tools was developed. It also describes how the school addresses the social emotional needs of students at-risk. The narrative unfolds through 11 action cycles which describe the process of planning, taking action, observing, collecting information and reflecting, upon which further actions evolved. Data were collected as part of the action cycles through participatory observation, journaling, document analysis, informal conversations with teachers and the use of an anonymous written survey with 10 primary teacher participants. The self-study through action research of my efforts to improve my leadership practices in creating an academic, as well as social emotional focus, on a school-wide basis revealed a shift from principal as leader to shared leadership and capacity building among teachers. Thus, this study began to address the changing role of formal leadership in addressing both the academic and social emotional needs of students with and without disabilities at-risk of school failure attending an alternative school.