School development is a central focus for schools and educational systems. Now, more than ever, there is increasing attention, both locally and internationally on the approaches and processes educational leaders utilise to improve teaching and learning in their schools. Improvement initiatives can be implemented through a top down approach, with centralised mandated requirements often set by state or system bodies stipulating a specific focus and outcomes that leaders must implement that look similar across school sites. In other instances, bottom up approaches are initiated, where the focus is more flexible, with local decisions leading to practices and outcomes that are context relevant. Ultimately, it is the degree of control and decision making that typifies the type of school improvement approach set. In the ongoing debate surrounding the effectiveness of school improvement approaches, reforms are being designed and implemented that include a complex blend of top down bottom up approaches. This study examines the implementation of such a school improvement initiative. Deriving from a New South Wales public school improvement reform in Australia, we examine the implications associated with leading and implementing a school and university partnership, which stemmed from a government directive but was designed through local decision-making. While findings from this study and associated literature (e.g., Boone, 2014; Petko, Egger, Cantieni & Wespi, 2015; Toy, 2016) stress the effectiveness of a mixed mode of top down bottom up implementation for school improvement reform, we argue that alignment between the intended initiative outcomes with the reality of design and implementation prove significant challenges for sustained change and transferability.