Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Morgridge College of Education, Teaching and Learning Sciences

First Advisor

P. Bruce Uhrmacher, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Norma Hafenstein

Third Advisor

Richard Kitchen


Charter schools, Expeditionary learning, Innovation


Innovative Educational Design: The Development of Autonomous Schools captures an educator’s journey in developing an economically integrated, urban Expeditionary Learning charter school, an autoethnography of an educator embracing an entrepreneurial spirit and traversing the years prior to opening a school and obtaining unanimous approval from the authorizing board of education. Autoethnography provides the researcher with an opportunity to turn scholarly interests inward, bringing personal experiences to center stage revealing the culture of founding school leaders. Similar to an ethnographer describing the culture of a group of people and learning what it is like to be a part of the group from the viewpoint of members of that group, the researcher describes experiences designing an autonomous Expeditionary Learning charter school in an urban environment in the Rocky Mountain region. Autoethnography adheres to the anthropological and social approaches to scientific inquiry, providing opportunities for the autoethnographer to reflect upon, analyze, and interpret story within the broader sociocultural context. Personal memory data, self-reflective data, and external data were utilized to explore the aspects of the researcher’s experiences developing an Expeditionary Learning charter school that would best support future education entrepreneurs in designing autonomous schools. An additional purpose of this autoethnographic study is to illuminate the problems and possibilities for preparing effective school leaders and providing early career support to nurture their professional development. With insights into the researcher’s experiences founding a downtown school, the author identifies important aspects of school design, including school culture, leadership, educational program, teaching, and governance and reveals the hidden competencies school leaders need to possess to succeed in an increasingly changing educational landscape. The author hopes that this autoethnography will reveal the complexities facing autonomous school leaders as they navigate state and district level authorization processes and, in the process, provide an opportunity for new knowledge, insight, and transformation for the author, the reader, and the field of choice and innovation in education.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Jennifer E. Arzberger


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

190 p.


Educational leadership, Educational administration, Education