Date of Award

Spring 5-14-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Policy Studies

First Advisor

Dr. James Kahrs

Second Advisor

Dr. Kristina Brezicha

Third Advisor

Dr. Robert Hendrick


This dissertation examines the perspectives of principals leading rural Georgia schools within districts following charter system governance and addresses the overarching research question, “How do rural Georgia charter system principals perceive their level of empowerment in local school decision making?” Georgia charter system governance is available for any public school district in the state and offers empowerment and flexibility at the school house level. Charter system governance operates similarly to traditional charter schools but includes all public schools in the system charter contract. Little research is available on the process of local leader empowerment in rural Georgia charter systems because Georgia is the only state to offer charter governance to districts and charter systems are relatively new having been created in 2007. Rural school systems are defined by the county the district is located in, having less than 50,000 people according to the 2010 census. This multiple case study utilized semi-structured interviews of seven principals in rural Georgia charter systems to understand the level of local empowerment and autonomy perceived by these leaders. Additionally, an internal and external document review took place to achieve triangulation during the data collection process. Internal documents included the local system charter contract and the governance team documents from the local district. The external documents included the rules, regulations, and by-laws of charter system governance from the Georgia Department of Education and the Charter System Foundation. Thematic analysis was used to identify themes collected through principal interviews and document reviews. Results indicate that principals in rural Georgia charter systems perceive empowerment in decision-making at the local school level. Five major themes emerged during the data analysis portion of the study: charter system governance, system-level support, the principalship, rural impact, and the local community. The results of this dissertation can help guide state, district, and school-level leaders, especially in rural settings, by understanding the perspectives of principals regarding empowerment and autonomy to make decisions in the best interest of the local school and community.


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