Term of Award

Spring 1996

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Educational Administration

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (open access)


Department of Leadership, Technology, and Human Development

Committee Chair

Michael Richardson

Committee Member 1

Michael Allen

Committee Member 2

Robert Stevens

Committee Member 3

Garth Petrie


This study provided an analytic description of the transition of one rural Georgia school as its staff sought to embrace the middle school concept. Development of such a description required that the researcher examine the school through the filter or sieve of change theory and in an holistic manner, using techniques appropriate to ethnohistorical, qualitative research. Specifically, the description spanned an eighteen-year, bounded period and used participant observation, individual and group interviews, and documentation to uncover the meaning participants in the school attached to the changes.

While Georgia provided an incentive grant to encourage eligible schools to move toward the middle school concept, the specific state criteria excluded some schools from qualification. Farpoint Middle School (masked) did not meet the grant's grade level requirements until years after its transition was made. Because the school was ineligible for the incentive grant, the school district never raised the possibility of looking at the middle school concept. Thus, the transition toward use of the middle school concept that occurred at Farpoint Middle School was neither mandated by the state nor influenced by the school district.

The focus of this study, therefore, was to understand why the transition occurred there and how it was accomplished. Accordingly, the researcher sought to determine the connection between the events, roles, and factors relevant to the school's changes from 1978 to 1996. In turn, these were compared to the related literature: national reform movement, middle school movement, organizational theory of schools, traditional roles of teachers and administrators, university influence upon public schools, participatory decision making, schools as learning organizations, change theory, and factors and roles leading to change. The latter included a detailed look at change theory from science and business perspectives--particularly the concepts of paradigm, paradigm shifts, and paradigm shifters.

The study determined that those inside and outside the school agreed that the change toward use of the middle school concept occurred from inside. Specifically, a small group of individual teachers connected with professors at the local university and influenced the principal to develop an interest in the middle school concept. The principal, in turn, involved the rest of the staff and a collective decision was made to pursue the middle school concept for better meeting the needs of the school's students. Various external factors such as federal, regional, state, county, and university influences were found to directly or indirectly support the changes going on inside the school throughout the eighteen-year period.

The bulk of this transition took place over a five-year period from 1988 to 1993, called "The Middle Years." However, the ten years prior to 1988, "The Early and Between Years," were crucial to setting the stage to explain how the school was so receptive to such a shift. The three years after 1993, "The Later Years," were included to show the continued progress, despite the relocation of the school and the loss of both the original core group of teachers and the long-term principal.

No single body of research was found to explain the circumstances of change at Farpoint Middle School. Instead data analysis centered around the divergent analysis styles of theoretical application and synthesis, as explained by LeCompte and Preissle. Accordingly, pieces of research and analytic frames from various fields were used to offer a collection of conclusions. This study, in the end, offered an example of and reinforcement for the paradigm shift being made in educational change theory: organizations change from the inside, but their changes must be supported from the outside.


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