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Designing Rural School Improvement Networks: Aspirations and Actualities

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 90, No. 2

Andy Hargreaves, Lynch School of Education at Boston College
Danette Parsley, Education Northwest
Elizabeth K. Cox, Lynch School of Education at Boston College


Rural school educators are often isolated and have few opportunities to learn from neighboring schools or colleagues. This is an especially daunting challenge for low-performing rural schools faced with implementing significant reform efforts (e.g., turnaround approaches, educator effectiveness systems, college- and career-ready standards and assessments). This paper discusses the design and start-up of a large-scale project to connect “like with like” rural and remote schools within the northwest region of the United States to identify and share promising and innovative school reform practices. The authors present a network design framework based on previous work supporting and studying similar educational networks for innovation and improvement in the United States and beyond. They also present lessons learned about designing and launching a network that others might consider when initiating a school improvement network.


Andy Hargreaves, the Thomas More Brennan Chair in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, specializes in leadership, professional learning communities, and educational change. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Educational Change and has authored or edited more than 30 books. He has delivered addresses and provided staff development in 37 U.S. states and 42 countries. Hargreaves holds a Ph.D. from the University of Leeds.

Danette Parsley (issue co-editor/author) acts as Chief Program Officer for Education Northwest, overseeing the organization's programmatic work, including the development and implementation of technical assistance, applied research, and evaluation services. A noted expert in school turnaround, she works with schools and districts on rapid, inquiry-based cycles of improvement. She also helps lead the Northwest Rural Innovation and Student Engagement Network. Parsley received an Ed.D. in Organization Change from Pepperdine University.

Elizabeth K. Cox is a doctoral student and teaching fellow at Boston College. Her research interests include secondary curriculum and instruction, school leadership, and educational change.