Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Education Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Lars Björk


Research shows that public school districts that follow traditional means of instruction and assessment are insufficiently preparing students for success in the today’s global world. As a result, students are entering into higher education institutions and the workforce without the necessary skills to succeed in these 21st century environments. Extant literature suggest that there is a broad consensus on this perspective in public and private sectors nationally and globally. Evidence shows that some school district superintendents and their respective school boards continue to focus on improving the current practices and student academic performance and assessment. Other instructional leaders recognize that their current systems may insufficiently equip students for their futures. Despite financial challenges, state regulations, and limitations of traditional community expectations, these leaders introduce and support innovative education programs that offer extraordinary college and career preparatory opportunities. Some of these innovative districts are recognized by their respective state Departments of Education such as the districts represented in this study that are recognized as Kentucky Districts of Innovation (DOI).

This exploratory, multiple-case study examines how several rural Kentucky school districts address these challenges. They've designed, developed, and supported innovative programs to prepare their students for success in post-secondary education and future careers. The researcher examined a wide array of documents, including program applications, district budgetary documents, strategic plans, website information as well as conducted six interviews of three rural Kentucky superintendents and either their respective board chairs or a school board member. An analysis of these data identified leadership characteristics of these superintendents, their relationships with their board members, and how these relationships effect the design, development, and continuous support for innovation.

The researcher identified four common themes: student preparation, rural identity, cultures of innovation, and communication. Both superintendent and board members created change to prepare students for their future. The superintendents closely identified with and leveraged their intimate knowledge of their respective rural communities to align education innovations to meet community needs. Superintendents nurtured cultures of innovation that encouraged and accepted informed risk-taking at all levels of the district. In turn, their boards of education supported these innovative efforts through the allocation of resources as well as positive patronage in local communities. Further, effective communication patterns supported positive relationships and built trust with their respective boards and communities.

Findings from this study support the notion that complex decision-making processes that support education innovation begin with the school board’s decision to hire a school district superintendent. The support continues as the board also is well-educated about innovative practices, provides advice, and supports the district’s education initiatives. It is also evident that superintendents who lead their respective district’s education innovation initiatives are well-informed by extant literature, exemplary practice, and have the political acuity to ensure that they work in concert with their local boards of education. In conclusion, superintendents and the relationships they had with their school boards of education directly affected innovation efforts within these rural Kentucky Districts of Innovation.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)