Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Educational Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Wayne Lewis


Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) is an urban school district in Louisville, Kentucky. While serving more than 100,000 students, JCPS is the 27th largest school system in the United States. JCPS serves students with moderate to severe disabilities (MSD) seeking to attain an alternative diploma upon exiting secondary school. Students with MSD enrolled in JCPS age 16 and older receive transition services to support post-secondary transition. Community stakeholders and JCPS central office staff are concerned about post school outcomes and transition for students with MSD. Based on a report by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), a majority of students with MSD in JCPS are not engaged in employment or higher education one year after exiting secondary schools (KYPSO "2013 Annual Report", 2013). While a national report shows this population accessing two-year and four-year colleges at a rate of 28% (U.S Department of Education IES, 2011), students with MSD in JCPS access two-year and four-year colleges at a diminished rate of 11% (KYPSO "2013 Annual Report", 2013).

Based on my professional perception as transition administrator for JCPS’ Exceptional Child Education (ECE) Department and local data identifying post school outcomes for students with MSD, MSD teachers in JCPS lack capacity to facilitate the transition of their students into two-year and four-year colleges. The purpose of this action research was to build capacity in special education teachers and JCPS, through a Community of Practice (CoPs) for professional learning, to support a successful transition into two-year and four-year colleges for students with MSD.

Using an action research design, this study utilized mixed methodologies to determine progress towards achievement targets. Applying the concurrent nested strategy model and triangulation of findings, the following three research questions will be informed: (a) what did the CoP actually do? (b) what changes occurred regarding the behaviors of special education teachers on identified achievement targets? (c) What were the teachers’ perceptions of the relationship, if any, between the actions of the CoP and noted changes in their professional behaviors? Action research participants included MSD teachers, central office staff, and external stakeholders. I served as both participant researcher and participant leader throughout the action research process.

During a three-month period, four events were conducted in alignment with CoP framework (Wenger, McDermott, Snyder 2002). Data sources included documents (e.g., notes and agendas), participant exit interviews, survey questions, and observations of special education teachers’ professional learning. A comparative and ongoing analysis of data was used to support research questions. Special education teacher behaviors, aligned

to achievement targets, were monitored using a Likert scale survey, every 30 days throughout the action. Categories and codes supported the development of themes for an analysis of MSD teacher exit interviews. Insights garnered were used to support future action and add to the body of research for educational leadership.

The findings of this action research identified themes and data to support capacity building and leading within a central office support department of a large urban school district. The study revealed that special education teachers, when supported in professional learning, perceived an increase in their capacity to support MSD students and families seeking a transition to two-year or four-year colleges.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)