Fiery Passion and Relentless Commitment: The Lived Experiences of African American Women Principals in Turnaround Model Schools
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Chronically low performing schools in the United States have required targeted support and interventions to increase student achievement. In recent years, the school turnaround model has emerged as a swift, dramatic, comprehensive approach to implementing interventions in the lowest performing schools (Calkins, Guenther, Belfiore, & Lash, 2007) where incremental school improvement efforts have failed. Such schools require school leaders who demonstrate a sense of urgency and address underperformance with immediacy and targeted actions (Fairchild & Demary, 2011).
African American female principals often lead chronically low performing schools that require turnaround efforts (Murtadha and Larson, 1999). However, documented accounts of their lived experiences are extremely limited in scholarly literature (Clemmons, 2012). This research seeks to close the gap in literature on the experiences of African American women principals. Situated in Black Feminism and Black Women’s Standpoint Theory, this study redefines what it means to be a Black woman (Collins, 1998) school leader and assesses African American women’s shared experiences, perceptions, and how social and oppressive constructs impact their lives and leadership. This research also critiques the educational system and the turnaround model through the lens of Black women leaders’ experiences in order to spark new thinking and new approaches to address chronically low performing schools and bring awareness to the potentially oppressive structures which African American women educators experience as leaders.
Furthermore, this research examines how Black women principals determine their identities, function as leaders, and overcome obstacles to be inspirational and successful school leaders of turnaround model schools. Turnaround principals in this study have courageously, selflessly, and voluntarily worked in grim educational situations, and they have all prevailed. This research reveals the women have focused on a growth mindset, relationship building, and ownership and accountability to drive school turnaround. However, at the core of their leadership is an endless passion and unwavering commitment to providing a quality education for all children. The results of this study have implications on education policy, policy-makers, and school turnaround practices.