Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education Systems Improvement Science

Committee Chair/Advisor

Dr. Daniella Hall Sutherland

Committee Member

Dr. Hans Klar

Committee Member

Dr. Kristin Frady

Committee Member

Dr. Lee D’Andrea

Committee Member

Dr. Noelle Paufler


This qualitative, improvement science, autoethnograpic case study aims to examine a unique perspective on rural research through the lens of place-conscious leadership. With an identified problem of inequity in advanced-level course offerings, which resulted in lost student opportunities and student attrition to neighboring schools, the leadership at Forest Lakes High School (FLHS) in rural South Carolina began the ambitious journey of reframing their narrative. As a scholarly researcher and administrator at FLHS, I had the unique opportunity to immerse myself fully in all aspects of this study. My dual positionality allowed me to study this process while sharing the lived experiences of the leadership team. This study tells our story of conceptualizing, creating, and maintaining the Forest Lakes Early College High School (FLECHS) program. Through leadership team interviews, researcher observations, personal experiences, and program artifacts, this study details the experiences of the FLECHS leadership team as we utilized the “plan, do, study, act” cyclical process of the improvement science model.

As the processes surrounding the creation of the early college high school unfolded, the leadership team identified a sequence of steps we addressed before moving forward into the next phase of our arduous task. I categorized these steps into the three main phases of this study, planning and development, implementation, and sustainability. Within the narrative of each step, I discuss efforts, highlight successes, and present lessons learned by the team. From these steps, I selected the three most significant areas identified as pivotal elements in the program’s success. The first, creating coalitions, tells of the importance we placed in building supporting coalitions with the community, the school district, and the partnering institution. Next, throughout each semester of the early college program, we worked through a continuous process of evolving the curriculum to meet the student’s needs. Finally, the area of identifying, hiring, and retaining highly-qualified instructors presented a recurring area requiring extensive work and effort.

The implications of this study suggest that the impact of developing and implementing an advanced program in a rural setting is transformational to a school and community by successfully increasing equitable opportunities for historically underserved rural students. The notable outcomes at Forest Lakes High School included an increase in advanced course offerings from one course in 2017 to ten courses in 2022 and, more importantly, a decrease in student attrition from approximately 7% in 2016 to slightly over 1% in 2022. I suggest that educational leaders seeking to implement similar programs might utilize this study's experiences as a guide when considering a similar endeavor.



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