Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Policy

First Advisor

Anita Stewart McCafferty, EdD

Second Advisor

Amy Johnson, PhD

Third Advisor

Julie Meltzer, PhD


Achieving coherence and coordination in a complex system like a school district is complicated by the nested layers of the organization. This structure allows for teachers in classrooms and schools in a district to operate autonomously, as their organizational layers insulate those in the center from external demands and mandates. The COVID-19 pandemic represented an external demand that led district leaders to implement a series of situational reforms that affected nearly every aspect of the educational organization.

This qualitative study examines how the experiences and decision-making processes of district, school, and teacher leaders from a single district in Maine during the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the district’s coordination and coherence throughout the crisis. Key findings demonstrate that while district leaders acted to establish a decision-making process that centralized decisions, aligned policies, and allocated resources to meet the evolving demands of delivering education during a pandemic, there were factors that acted to facilitate or inhibit the effectiveness of these actions. The most consequential factor related to district coherence was the presence of relational trust throughout the system, as it enhanced communication and collaboration, which contributed to broad diffusions of knowledge across the system. When relational trust was high, members also tolerated uncertainty and adopted changes more readily. The changing conditions and novelty of decisions confronting educational leaders also led to increased networking within the district and across districts in the region. This collaboration led to greater homogeneity and decreased school-based autonomy.


© 2021 Megan E. Welter

All Rights Reserved



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