Document Type


Publication Date



Leadership, Charter schools, Innovation schools, School reform, Educational innovation, Burnout

Organizational Units

Morgridge College of Education, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies



This paper explores how leaders of new public high schools – one charter and two innovation schools – navigated the journey from school-in-theory to school-in-practice during the school's first three years. School leaders at charter and innovation schools have increased freedom over curriculum, budget, scheduling and personnel when compared to leaders in traditional public schools.


Using case study research, this qualitative, multisite study of school leaders at three schools in an urban district in Colorado examined the realities leaders experienced during the first three years of their schools. School leaders participated in semi-structured interviews, which were coded and analyzed for data individual to each school and across the three schools. Initial school design plans and district accountability data were also reviewed.


The study identified two distinct challenges for leaders of these new schools: (1) opening a new school contributes to burnout among school leaders and (2) school leaders face systemic, district-level barriers that impede implementation of a school's founding mission and vision.

Research limitations/implications

A qualitative study of three standalone charter and innovation schools in one urban school district limits generalizability.


The lived experience of school leaders at new, standalone charter and innovation schools is largely neglected in empirical studies. This research illuminates key struggles school leaders experience as they seek to establish new schools with fidelity to district-approved school plans.

Publication Statement

This is an Accepted Manuscript of:

Bridich, S.M. (2021). Approved to fail: A case study of leadership at three new high schools. Journal of Educational Administration, 59(6), 794-810.

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License