This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Award




McKey, Tania

Type of Degree



Education Foundation, Leadership, and Technology


This study was conducted in two phases. The first phase was a deep descriptive analysis of the schools who received the United States Department of Education Green Ribbon School (ED-GRS) award over the first three years of the program: 2012, 2013, and 2014. In addition to a descriptive overview, the Ecological Democracy for Whole School Sustainability (ED-WSS) framework (Kensler, 2012) was used to conduct a deeper analysis of the award winning applications. Formal grounded theory allowed me to verify and extend the ED-WSS framework and descriptive statistics summarized the quantifiable trends in the data. The second phase of the study was a descriptive and correlational quantitative study of ED-GRS teachers’ perceptions of ecological and democratic principles in their schools. Descriptive statistics described the ED-GRS teachers’ perceptions of how the ecological and democratic principles operate in their schools. Correlations were used to look deeper at the ecological and democratic principles and to what extent these principles were related. This dissertation relied on a mixed-method, descriptive analysis and correlational study. In phase 1, there were three main characteristics of the ED-GRS award winners: (1) They had established strong partnerships or networks within or outside of their school communities; (2) They had provided choice for students and staff with respect to health and wellness; and (3) They had a clear purpose or vision for the school that has been communicated to all stakeholders. Three schools of the ED-GRS award winners qualified as the “greenest of the green schools” based on evidence of their practicing both ecological and democratic principles; these schools are described in detail. The six ecological principles were consistently evident in all of the ED-GRS award winners. The ten democratic principles were less evident, with the exception of a few schools. In phase 2, teachers in ED-GRS award winning schools reported evidence of ecological and democratic principles. The findings suggested that ecological and democratic principles had a positive relationship among them. In addition, there were seven principles that had strong, positive relationships among each other as perceived by teachers in ED-GRS award winning schools. I concluded from the data that sustaining ecological change requires evidence of democratic leadership and community. This study contributes to the field of educational leadership by providing a descriptive analysis of a newly-created United States Department of Education award. In addition, this study provides schools and school leaders with information as how to make sustainable changes that lead to healthy, high performance schools including a theoretical framework to provide guidance in making the sustainable changes.