Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Educational Administration (EdD)

Degree Level



Curriculum and Instruction


Carleton Holt

Committee Member

Kit Kacirek

Second Committee Member

Janet Penner-Williams


Education, Alternative ed. Hiring practices, Alternative education, Alternative school design, Critical theory, Effective instructional strategies, Secondary education


Billy is a bright, wide-eyed, little boy with bounding enthusiasm and wonder as he enters the doors of school on his first day of kindergarten. When the school doors open in Billy's sixth grade year the wide eyes and bounding enthusiasm have diminished only to leave behind dread and dismay at the thought of confronting yet another abysmal nine months of failure. How can we, as educators, better serve the needs of at-risk students like Billy? Shouldn't we ask them? What elements of the alternative education experience were significant to successful completion of the alternative education program? The phenomenological paradigm will provide the framework for all aspects of the qualitative study with the progressive theory imparting the theoretical foundation.

Students, parents of those students, administrators, and staff members of two alternative programs in the southeast Kansas area were the pool used to draw the participants. Criterion involved in selecting the participants were those who were or had been enrolled in the middle level or high school alternative education program in two southeast Kansas districts, currently 18 years old, or older, and who had successfully completed one or both programs.

Qualitative methods used to accomplish the research design for the elements of the alternative education experience significant to successful completion of the program were: (a) formal, semi-standardized, open-ended interviews with 12 current or former alternative education students, eight parents of those students,10 alternative education staff members; (b) evaluation of student journals from the middle school alternative school; and (c) obtrusive and unobtrusive classroom observations.

In answering the research question, three major themes were consistently repeated from each participant group as significant to successful completion of the alternative education program: (1) a caring and committed staff; (2) instilling hope and belief in the student and his or her abilities; and (3) staff members' relentless pursuit of continued achievements for all students.

Administrators concerned with meeting the needs of at-risk students may benefit from the findings of this study. The study lends value to guiding principles for effective design of alternative education programs, implementation of effective educational strategies, and guidelines for alternative education hiring practices.