Who Leads Turnaround Schools? Characteristics of Principals in Tennessee's Achievement School District and Innovation Zones

La Tanya L. Dixon, Lam D. Pham, Gary T. Henry, Sean P. Corcoran, Ron Zimmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Purpose: While previous research has examined the impact of school turnaround models, less is known about the principals who lead these turnaround schools. This study examines the personal demographics, experience, educational background, prior school performance, salaries, and turnover of principals who led two turnaround models in Tennessee's lowest performing schools: a state-run Achievement School District (ASD) that has not yielded positive nor negative effects and local Innovation Zones (iZones) that averaged positive effects on student achievement over six years. Methods: We analyze longitudinal, administrative data from the Tennessee Department of Education from 2006–2007 to 2017–2018 to compare pre- and post-reform means and trends in principal characteristics between ASD, iZone, and similarly low-performing comparison schools. Results: ASD schools had higher principal turnover rates and lost principals whose schools performed higher while iZone schools retained more principals and lost principals whose schools performed lower. Moreover, iZone schools employed more experienced principals, more Black principals, and principals with higher graduate degree attainment and paid their principals more than ASD schools. Salary differences between ASD and iZone schools were not explained by principals’ characteristics, such as years of experience. Implications: Our findings reveal differences in leadership characteristics between iZone and ASD schools that were consistent with differences in the effectiveness of the two turnaround approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)258-299
Number of pages42
JournalEducational Administration Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • leadership
  • principal turnover
  • school improvement
  • school turnaround
  • talent management
  • whole-school reform

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Public Administration


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