Dissertation Data 2

Published: 20 October 2021| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/9vjcvx5fck.1
Jennifer Antoni


The study’s guiding questions were: (a) how do school leaders’ role identity components (i.e.., ontological and epistemological beliefs; purpose and goals; perceived action possibilities; self-perceptions and definitions) emerge and interact with each other to inform their actions regarding chronically absent high school students? (b) to what extent do the beliefs and perceptions of school leaders about supporting chronically absent students compare and contrast to the lived experiences of adults who were chronically absent students in high school? (c) to what extent do the beliefs and perceptions of school leaders about supporting chronically absent students compare and contrast to the lived experiences of parents and guardians of adults who were chronically absent students in high school? The results demonstrate how each school leader’s meaning of working with chronically absent students at the high school level, amidst an array of accountability pressures, has been incorporated into their dynamic role identity system within the sociocultural context, guiding their experiences, perceptions and actions. Despite their nuanced role identity systems - the participants come very different backgrounds with varied lived experiences and expertise in the domain, and reference different prior role identities and future role identities - the findings also highlighted common processes and content across Participant Roles (e.g., school leader, parent or student). This manifested distinctly in the themes reflecting school leaders’ actions changed in response to the system’s control parameter of accountability pressure, the ways school leaders communicated to parents and students about absenteeism, and the very different cultural meanings that students and parents gave to absenteeism and attendance than the cultural meanings and characteristics that school leaders largely experienced. The insights from this study can inform the work of educational leaders, educators and researchers who endeavor to intervene with the elusive problem of chronic absenteeism at the high school level. It may further guide educational leaders and policymakers who made decisions about the utility value of social-emotional learning that emphasizes exploration of identity for students, teachers, and leaders alike, as well as how outreach efforts are regarded and measured in school system outputs such as educator evaluation systems and professional development offerings. Importantly, this research aims to provide leaders with a tool for reflection on the importance of role identity as a lens to view their own professional practices and responses to challenging, complex problems in the domain such as chronic absenteeism.


Steps to reproduce

The study was conducted at a small, urban high school in central the Tri-State area, about twenty miles outside of Philadelphia. South-Central High School (SCHS; school name is pseudonym). Forty nine percent of its students are African American, 33% of its students are white, and 14% of students are Latina/o. A similar majority, fifty three percent of students, qualify for the National School Lunch Program. South-Central District (pseudonym) as a whole services only 866 total students, with declining enrollment in recent years. SCHS is the sole high school in district with 439 students enrolled, as of 2019. In terms of school quality and student success metrics, the school’s chronic absenteeism percentage is consistently close to 17%, significantly higher than the state average of 12%. Also worthy of note is the district’s high mobility rate -- just over 27%. In 2019, the per pupil spending was $19,806, higher than other districts within the county. Consistent with many urban high schools with similar demographics, SCHS reports some of the lowest standardized test scores in the county. In short, SCHS is a representative (Merriam, 2009) high poverty, low performing high school with a high number of chronically absent students. Although determining what is typical can be difficult, research suggests that chronic absenteeism is concentrated in (a) schools with poverty (Gee, 2019; Bauer, Liu, Schanzenbach & Shambaugh, 2018; Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012), (b) schools with factors reflecting a negative school climate (Gee, 2019), and (c) schools that incorporate key transitions, especially the senior year of high school prior to graduation (Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012). As has been noted, SCHS fits the profile of a typical school with high rates of chronic absenteeism. Even though the stories of school leaders who work with their chronically absent students will be explored through the complex identity processes of one district’s leadership team, many of the practices and responses associated with student absenteeism are universal and widespread across schools and districts. In this study, leaders’ dynamic role identity systems are highly contextualized, and can generate insight about how role identity may inform educational leaders’ motivated actions and practices across contexts. In order to generate sufficient data, I sought participants occupying different stakeholder roles, but who are or were all a part of the SCSD. School and district leaders whose work involves chronically absent high school students, former students of SCHS who experienced chronic absenteeism, and parents of former students who experienced chronic absenteeism constituted the sample. The educational leaders all operate in administrator roles at the South-Central School District, spanning an array of leadership areas including curriculum, instruction, athletics, student conduct, and operations.


Temple University


Focus Group, In-Depth Interview, Image Artifact