Sustaining Leadership: Identifying factors that inform principal longevity
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Seventeen years after researchers sounded the alarm to the phenomenon of principal turnover, principal turnover continues at a national level of 15% to 30% annually with schools serving students in high poverty, majority-minority student populations at the higher range. In Texas, Fuller and Young (2010) found that 50% of principals leave their positions after 5 years. The purpose of this phenomenological case study was to provide qualitative data that identify the motivational factors that inform principal retention. This study captured the voices, perspectives and lived experiences of four middle school principals serving in the second largest school district in Texas. The context of their principalship was drawn from the state and district artifacts, the data from the self-reporting Basic Need Satisfaction at Work survey and the semi-structured interviews. This study questioned: Given the high levels of attrition of middle school principals in Texas, what and how have (a) professional and personal experiences, (b) administrative support, (c) professional preparation, and (d) technical abilities contributed to principal retention and why?
Data from this study revealed the personal connections, commitment to the community, and advocacy towards high needs student populations that advanced their reasons to pursue the principalship. The participants reported they did not initiate a career in the principalship and reported their principals recommended them to district sponsored principal preparation programs. These same principals supervised the participants' internships and continued to serve as mentors and peer supports. This research further solidified current research that purports the need for autonomy at the campus level and how the context of leadership matters.
Further investigation is needed to capture the voices and lived experiences of principals at the elementary, middle, and high school levels to better understand their work environments and how districts can support principals based on campus needs. Research that informs principal longevity at elementary, middle, and high schools, from rural, suburban, and urban districts with varying years of experience would also be beneficial as well as identifying school districts that have retained principals for more than five years in schools with high needs student populations.