Full dissertation title:

Educating Adolescent Ukrainian War Refugees: Current Practices and Recommendations to Address Complex Learning Needs

This research is important due to the thousands of Ukrainian war refugees seeking their education in the U.S. with limited English language proficiency and having likely experienced some ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) leading many to have some levels of trauma. This reality has resulted in MLL (Multi-Language Learner) educators needing support to identify effective classroom approaches. This qualitative research took a phenomenological approach utilizing constant comparison methods and triangulation to code the data and come to conclusions and recommendations. The results of the data show a need for a trauma screener for Ukrainian war refugee students, as well as a method to train teachers on trauma-informed teaching methods and mental models. Also, developing a partnership with community resources to help support these students is recommended. Relationships with the Ukrainian students is important to support these students. Teachers also need professional development for implementing an effective MLL program, including good basic instruction, and for partnering with colleagues who have MLL students in their courses. Furthermore, the data shows Ukrainian war refugee youth experiencing a painful acculturation due to their experiences in the Ukraine and this has resulted in an active push-back against learning English. This reinforces the value of positive relationships with the MLL students. Lastly, administrators and teachers need to each own their roles in the education of MLLs for leadership cohesion and more effective implementation of the MLL program. Additional areas of study are identified including student voice, professional development, and coherent leadership.

Dissertation completed by Eric Cahan.

Full dissertation title:

The Policy Governance Leadership Model: A Qualitative Historical Narrative Study about Bellingham School District’s Implementation of Policy Governance and the Impact on Student Success


Policy Governance is a leadership model developed in the 1970s by Dr. John Carver. It has been adopted by the boards and CEOs of numerous business organizations and is gaining popularity among public school superintendents and school boards. Policy Governance creates specific roles and responsibilities for the board and the superintendent, allowing them to work together toward targeted outcomes referred to as Ends. The Bellingham School District adopted Policy Governance in 2010 and has experienced qualitative and quantitative success using this governance structure. This study will provide literature research coupled with the experiences and testimonies of the current and past board members, faculty, and superintendents to connect Policy Governance to the success of students in the Bellingham community. In 2013 the Bellingham community passed a school bond providing the Bellingham superintendent with an opportunity to make strategic decisions regarding the use of those funds. Policy Governance provided the superintendent with a culture of trust with the school board that allowed him to act boldly on his convictions to invest in students who were far from equitable support in the school district. One investment was the building of Options High School, a traditional alternative school staged in portables, that was transformed into a $23 million school dedicated to each student and their personal learning needs. Options High School has experienced growth in student success since its transformation and continues to increase its influence throughout Whatcom County. This study suggests that the Policy Governance leadership model provided a culture of professional trust between the school board and superintendent and thus resulted in the increased success of students in the district.

Dissertation completed by Byron Gerard.

Full dissertation title:
School and District Leader Perceptions of the Root Causes Behind Male Underachievement in American Secondary Schools: A Mixed-Methods Study of this Phenomenon


The Title IX legislation of 1972 asserts that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance, ..” This, along with other movements and forces of the past half century, laid the foundation for our ongoing challenging, national dialogue about individuality, identity, opportunity, equality, and equity. This study advances that conversation based on the continuing evidence of male underachievement in our secondary schools.

The purpose of this study was to explore school and district leader perceptions of the root causes behind male underachievement in American secondary schools, and, in doing so, inspire action by elevating the broader societal conversation about the phenomenon, advancing professional and scholarly understanding of male underachievement, and illuminating the plight of underachieving males.

The research focused on two broad questions: How do school and district leaders explain male underachievement? Do leader perceptions of causes vary by identity (e.g., gender, level, experience)? A mixed-methods approach combined a survey, written responses, and interview data from Washington state public school administrators who had working knowledge of secondary-aged students. Quantitative data analysis included analysis of central tendency, distribution of responses, and correlation among responses by participant identity factors. Qualitative analysis included coding data, identifying core themes in responses, and isolating patterns of themes in crafting the narrative of participant insights.

The research showed that this phenomenon is real, pervasive, and has been the case for some time at the secondary level. The study confirms that this phenomenon has validity within our professional sphere, though with varying degrees of affirmation and understanding across identities. While the degree of agreement on this phenomenon varies across participant identity, the research describes a traditional school learning environment that clashes with how males often present in schools, where success is often based on compliance, and where educators may lack cultural and professional awareness about boys and how they learn, even to the extent of betraying an institutional/system bias against adolescent males.

The findings from this study call on policymakers and professionals to address male underachievement with urgency, to interrogate the increasingly disproportionate representation of males receiving special education services, and to invest in resources and programs to support male students. This work asks us to examine and promote teaching practices that maximize male connection and success, and to focus research into male adolescent mental health and emotional well-being, with special attention to connectedness, sense of belonging, and any links related to school violence, self-harm, and mental health issues in boys.

Dissertation completed by Patrick Hegarty.

Full dissertation title:


The impact of mentorship on attracting and sustaining female superintendents in the State of Washington


Female superintendents continue to make up a small fraction of public-school superintendents in this country. This study focused on gathering stories of current female superintendents in the state of Washington, all of whom are within their first three years of their superintendency to determine the extent to which mentoring had an impact on their career path leading into the superintendency role and the impact of mentoring in sustaining their role as a seated superintendent.

This qualitative study focused on five essential questions:

What kinds of mentoring do female school superintendents experience on their pathway to becoming chief executive of a school district?
Of the mentoring experiences female superintendents identify, which were demonstrably positive or beneficial?
Of the mentoring experiences female superintendents identify, which were demonstrably negative or not beneficial?
To what extent, or in what ways, do current female superintendents seek opportunities to develop mentoring relationships with other female school leaders?
In this study, I focused on current female superintendents in the state of Washington who are within their first three years in the role as superintendent. The importance of identifying a group of women who were new to their superintendent position was to take advantage of their most recent experiences, stories, and opportunities while they were fresh in their minds and, by the nature of their experience, relatively new to applying their college preparatory experiences to their superintendent role. This research contributes to the existing body of research on the gender gap that persists in attracting and retaining female superintendents in Washington and across the country.

The study implemented a narrative inquiry approach using qualitative methodologies based on in-depth interviews of five female superintendents in the state of Washington. I chose narrative inquiry as the instrument for collecting authentic stories of female superintendents through a personal interview. This allowed the participants to share their continual process and interpretation of their lived experiences through the language of storytelling (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016).

The significance of this study is to examine closely why the gender gap persists for women superintendents. Data shows that women outpace men when it comes to degrees and classroom experiences, and yet women continue to be underrepresented in the top roles of our educational systems. Seventy-six percent of teachers, 56% of principals, and 30% of central office staff are female yet female superintendents represent less than one third of all superintendents in the United States (Superville, 2022). When it comes to degrees, females outperform their male counterparts by 100 to 75 for bachelor’s degrees and even fewer men graduate with a master’s degree (Reeves & Smith, 2022). A recent study conducted by ILO (In the Life Of), a women-owned organization, found that out of the open positions of the country’s top school districts, men were selected for the superintendent role in 16 of the 17 open positions in 2021 (Superville, 2022). If women hold more positions in education and outpace men when it comes to degrees and experience, why are the highest positions in the organization held by men? In a review of the recent literature, the myth that women forgo the superintendency due to societal, organizational, or parenting barriers were dispelled (Robinson et al., 2017). However, recent literature revealed that other factors such as the lack of mentorship may contribute to the persistent gender gap. Importantly, limited research exists that focus on mentorships as a pathway for females to obtain and sustain the position of superintendent. Understanding the attributes of a successful mentor-mentee relationship may be critical in discovering how to eliminate the gender gap and help to clear the path for access to these highly compensated and sought out positions for future female leaders across our nation.

Dissertation completed by Michelle Kuss-Cybula.

Full dissertation title:


The Impact of Guiding Coalitions on the Overall Success of Schools Properly Implementing and Sustaining Professional Learning Communities


The role of the school administrator and teacher leadership has become increasingly embedded within education. Extensive research and literature suggests teacher leaders are critical in reforming schools. Strong professional learning communities (PLCs) recognize that teacher leadership development must be a purposeful and formal component of their culture. The purpose of this quantitative study was to understand the impact of having or not having a guiding coalition (GC) on the overall success of schools properly implementing and sustaining PLCs.

This study explored the perceptions of secondary school administrators throughout Washington State on the five dimensions of PLCs as delineated by the Professional Learning Communities Assessment – Revised (PLCA-R). One hundred and three respondents participated. Insight into sustained PLC development and operation was sought from the results focused on quantitative data from the PLCA-R. The six dimensions measured by the PLCA-R are:

Shared in Support of Leadership,

Shared Values and Vision,

Collective Learning and Application,

Shared Personal Practice,

Supportive Conditions – Relationships, and

Supportive Conditions – Structures.

The data were analyzed using means, standard deviations, and t scores using a Welch's t test.

The results unequivocally indicate that the establishment of a focused GC is imperative to successfully implementing PLCs in schools. The data also revealed that there was not a statistically significant difference in any of the dimensions of the PLCA-R between schools who were not PLCs and schools that claimed to be PLCs but did not establish a GC as outlined by Solution Tree. The final conclusion of this study is that schools who do not take the time to establish an authentic GC as part of their PLC process are doomed to what Reeves and DuFour call PLC Lite and should seek out other improvement efforts other than PLCs.

Dissertation completed by John Lombardi.

Full dissertation title:

aahkóinnimaan kii makoyiisaaminaa: indigenous success in La Conner public schools


In relationship with the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community using an Indigenous research paradigm listening to stories and lived experiences resulted in narratives of Swinomish students attending La Conner Public Schools in La Conner, Washington. The purpose and research questions were generated through focus group interviews of Swinomish Indian Tribal Community elders, family members, parents, and educators. In other focus groups and individual interviews, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community elders, family members, parents, educators, and high school seniors, share their experiences at La Conner Public Schools. Their stories tell the reader the factors that contribute to successful experiences while sharing the barriers and challenges they faced as well. From an analysis of these qualitative data, recommendations are presented to alleviate the barriers and challenges and enhance the successes of Swinomish students attending La Conner Public Schools.

Dissertation completed by William Makoyiisaaminaa.

Full dissertation title:


Many Indigenous Tribes within Canada, such as the Sto: Lo and Matsqui First Nations in British Columbia, with whom I work alongside in the Abbotsford School District, have struggled since the time of first contact and colonization to preserve and defend their culture and values. It is through truth, reconciliation, and the hope of working together that we may find common ground moving forward within our society. This research study considered Indigenous peoples’ narratives through interview questions and stories. The research question was what are factors that motivate student success in K-12 public schools in British Columbia, Canada? A small sample of K-12 graduates and faculty participants from within the Abbotsford School District who identified as Indigenous volunteered for the study. The intent was that their responses, their narratives, and their stories could further support motivation and success of more Indigenous students in K-12 public schools throughout British Columbia, Canada.

Dissertation completed by Duane Penner.

Full dissertation title:

A Qualitative Case Study of Two School Districts’ Onboarding and Retention Mentorship Programs for New Teachers during the COVID‐19 Pandemic


Every year, districts welcome new teachers to a school community and prepare them for the new school year. Establishing and maintaining a strong school culture is an important and vital part of a teacher's job. Part of this preparation entails hiring, training, and retaining the best teachers to establish a framework for ensuring that new teachers hit the ground running from the first day of school (Howard, 2019). This qualitative research case study focused on the onboarding and retention mentorship program for new teachers in two school districts in Washington State. This case study focused on two districts’ onboarding and retention programs, their structure, and effectiveness. The case study included two specific educator groups from Sumner/Bonney Lake and Puyallup School Districts in Washington State. For this case study, I used Qualtrics, an online survey program, to collect participant feedback. The survey collected responses from 21 participants, 11 belonged to the district group, whereas the remaining 10 were teachers. The following six themes were central to district and teachers' onboarding and training experiences, as described by district-level personnel and early-career teacher participants: district onboarding support, district training opportunities, effective teacher onboarding, teacher barriers to effective training, teacher support systems, and training recommendations. The findings of this case study have implications for new teachers and district employees who are part of the onboarding and retention of new teachers.

Dissertation completed by Angelina Quiles.

Full dissertation title:

The Power of Place-Based/Outdoor Education in a Rural District: Effective Leadership to Increase Learning, Engagement, and Belonging through Place-Based Education


The research for this qualitative bounded case study on place-based/outdoor education in Mount Baker School District focused on fourth through sixth grades. The research was done mainly through interviews collecting the voices of 37 students including 16 fourth graders, 11 fifth graders, and 10 sixth graders. Twenty of those students were boys and 17 were girls. A total of nine District staff were interviewed including seven teachers and two administrators. Leaders at each of our Community-Based Organizations from Common Threads Farm, Wild Whatcom, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, Camp Saturna, North Cascades Institute, and Whatcom Environmental Education Coalition making up our Connections Program were also interviewed. The purpose of the study was to identify and analyze the impact of the Connections Program in Mount Baker School District as well as identify the leadership and essential components needed for place-based education to have a meaningful and lasting positive impact on students' lives. Among the outcomes the study may examine are the social-emotional and academic fulfillment. The following questions guided the research: What characteristics of place-based learning distinguish this approach to learning? In what ways, if at all, does place-based learning enrich the learning experiences of students in a rural school setting? In what ways, if at all, is leadership in a place-based learning setting different from leadership in a setting that lacks a place-based focus? What do leaders in placed-based learning settings do to support and sustain the success of their students? The analysis of the research indicated that place-based learning provides in-the-moment, real-life learning that helps students make connections to their local surroundings and how they can become stewards of our air, lands, and waterways. Leadership necessary to make place-based education successful must be equity-based, committed, collaborative, supportive, and willing to take risks. Mount Baker School District's Connections Program aligns learning for Kindergarten through sixth grade. It has caught the attention of the media and local leaders; financial support has been garnered through the Washington State Legislature.

Dissertation completed by Mary Sewright.

Full dissertation title:

Equitable access to the career and technical education graduation pathway for students receiving special education services


The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore the access of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) graduation pathway for students who receive special education services in a selected school district. Analyzing the course taking of three cohorts of high school students, who had individualized education plans, involved a deep dive into each one of their transcripts. This type of analysis enabled me to compare and contrast the course taking between students served in special education who lost an elective opportunity to receive additional IEP services to those who did not. Did the students who lost an elective to receive additional special education services, specifically in the class named Resource Study Skills, have the same access to the CTE graduation pathway compared to those who did not take the resource class? In addition, the study looked to see if these same students were negatively impacted in their ability to attend the local CTE skill center during their high school career and if there was an impact on their graduation rate. The study found that students who lost an elective to receive additional IEP services in a special education class named Resource Study Skills, had a decrease in percent of students who qualified for the CTE graduation pathway, with a decrease in enrollment to the local CTE skill center and in graduation rates when compared to their peers with an IEP, who did not take the resource class. A recommendation is made to the State of Washington to conduct a similar study that allows the state to not only find discrepancies between groups of students, but also why the differences exist. Recommendations for the district involved in this study includes sharing the findings with appropriate staff so they can learn the impact of course taking has on their students' high school and post-high school lives. Further research that includes not only the student's high school course taking, but also includes the student's special education qualifying areas and High School and Beyond Plan is suggested as it will provide more specific insights as to why a student may have been assigned the resource class in question. This specific type of insight may provide the school district with more actionable information that would allow them to remove any identified systemic barriers.

Dissertation completed by Mike Snow.

Full dissertation title:

“Make the Big Time Where You Are” Applying the Coaching Principles of Frosty Westering to Build a Culture of Success


Building a culture that allows sustained success is the goal of any organization. While an organization may have a period of success, few have sustained success. In some cases, however, success is sustained. This is the case for the Pacific Lutheran University football team under the leadership of head coach Frosty Westering. As the head football coach, Frosty Westering won four national titles. He is also a member of the college football hall of fame. How did he continue to be successful over time? This study attempts to answer that question.

A qualitative, multiple case study research methodology with a heuristic phenomenological slant was chosen for this study. This study explored the experiences of six former players who have used the principles of Frosty Westering as a leader in business and education. A semi-structured interview process was used to ascertain the experiences of participants' experiences with the phenomenon of EMAL.

Every Man a Lute, or EMAL, is a universal identifier for someone who has fully bought into Frosty Westering’s coaching philosophy and the principles that make up its foundation. The purpose of this study is to explore how applying the principles of Frosty Westering, and the concept of EMAL can support sustained success. Three distinct 'bedrock' principles were identified in some manner by those interviewed in this study. These principles, give it your best shot, goal setting, and letting the scoreboard take care of itself, are fully explored in this study.

Through the interview process, the data showed that when the principles of Frosty Westering are applied, a culture of success can be created. The implication for others is that one must buy into and consistently apply the principles. While it may be easier for a former player to apply the principles of EMAL, someone who is not familiar with Frosty, or the program, can still accomplish the task. According to the subjects of this study, the key to creating a culture of success is to translate the principles of EMAL for others.

Dissertation completed by Steven Stoker.