PhD in Public Policy

Barbara Maling ’19

Barbara Maling

Career

Current position: Principal, York Middle School

Barbara has held the position of Principal at York Middle School since 2015, after working as the district Curriculum Director beginning in 2012. Prior to that she worked in the Saco School Department as a teacher leader in curriculum and as a teacher at Saco Middle School. Barbara served as a board member for the Maine Curriculum Leaders Association for three years before becoming a principal. Before moving to Maine in 1999, Maling had a varied educational career, including private school teaching and administration, and serving as an educator in a health management agency.

Degrees & Certifications:

  • PhD in Public Policy with a concentration in Educational Leadership and Policy, University of Southern Maine, 2019
  • Post Master’s Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Leadership, University of Southern Maine
  • MA in Education, University of Colorado Bolder, 1990
  • BS in Geography, Brown University, 1986

Dissertation 

Title: An Examination of How Middle School Principals Make Sense of their Role in Leading Standards-Based Educational Reform

Abstract: A dominant feature of the educational policy landscape has been the adoption and use of learning standards to design classroom instruction. As these efforts move forward, often without clear definition of the classroom practices that should be adopted, the role of the school principal is critical in interpreting the changes, and charting a course for the teachers in the building. This qualitative study, examines the sensemaking of four active middle school principals as they interpreted and led standards-based reform efforts in their buildings, using a novel theoretical framework based on prior research (Benford & Snow, 2000; Spillane, Reiser, & Reimer, 2002). In addition, the study sought to illuminate how the forces of the principal’s belief in the value of the standards-based education and their accountability to the district and state to create change affected their leadership practice in the school.

Key findings demonstrated that the variation in language related to standards-based practices posed challenges for principals, and that principals made robust efforts to mediate the collective sensemaking of the practitioners in their buildings, as well the individual teacher sensemaking of the new practices. In the study principals hewed to the unique context of their school when determining what elements of standards-based practices to adopt. Other findings support the idea that a principal’s belief in the reform efforts is a substantially stronger influence on their leadership priorities than a sense of accountability.

This indicates that reform efforts should focus on careful consideration of the language used to describe the practices; they should account for resources available in schools, and provide reasonable, coherent next steps for educators. A crucial component in national and state educational policy changes designed to improve instruction and student learning is the need to understand how school administrators interpret standards-based educational practices, and how their interpretations are reflected in their school leadership practices.