Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Pamella Angelle

Committee Members

Mary Lynne Derrington, Ralph Brockett, James McIntyre


While ensuring equitable educational opportunities is a federal mandate of the United States Department of Education, research has shown that rural school principals may have difficulty doing so. Studies have investigated the practices urban and suburban school principals use to ensure equitable educational opportunities for marginalized students, but few studies have been completed with rural principals serving as the main unit of analysis. The purpose of this qualitative study is to investigate the practices rural principals employ to ensure equitable educational opportunities for marginalized students, the barriers they face when doing so, and the variation of equity practices among rural principals with differential student outcomes. This multi-site case study included four rural principals in a southeastern state of the United States. Due to this study’s subject matter, demographics and size of the community were considered when selecting cases, but z-scores were also used to compute student outcomes for more objectivity when choosing cases based on the criteria outlining this study. The qualitative data was open-coded to address the first two research questions. The qualitative data was examined through the lens of Theoharis’s (2009) conceptual framework on effective social justice leadership to address research question three. Rural principals shared many of the same practices to ensure equity like pedagogy, modeling and having high expectations. The principals also shared many of the same barriers such as community, financial limitations, and staff resistance. Using Theoharis’s (2009) social justice framework revealed that the most effective principals based on student outcomes were also the most socially just. Findings showed that principals who had outside factors that helped in their practices of social justice were more likely to have positive student outcomes. The most effective rural principals had district, community, and staff support regarding their social justice practices, whereas the least effective principals did not have extra support.

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