Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Educational Policy and Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Wanat, Carolyn L.

Second Advisor

McNabb, Scott F.

First Committee Member

Bills, David

Second Committee Member

Colvin, Carolyn

Third Committee Member

Haack, Marcus


In an era of accountability and high standards for public schools, some African American principals decided to work in predominantly white schools. Their experiences were challenging because they were racial newcomers in schools with students different from their own race. In this case study, 12 African-American principals and assistant principals in one Midwestern state described their experiences working in schools with fewer than 20 percent African-American students. In semi-structured interviews, participants discussed motivations, perceptions, and experiences serving as principals in predominantly white schools. Three primary research questions were investigated: How do African-American principals in predominantly white schools describe their daily work? Why do African-American principals continue to work in predominantly white schools? What opportunities and impediments have African-American principals in predominantly white schools encountered in their career advancement?

Although principals have similar motivations and experiences working in public schools, African-American principals tend to have distinct experiences and motivations while working in predominantly white schools. Some participants in this study relied on guidance from their faith. Other principals relied on their professional training and experience to overcome challenges when they relocated to work in predominantly white schools. All African-American principals in this study had made a choice to work in predominantly white schools and had continued to lead on their own terms. Three themes emerged from the analysis of the interviews. First, African-American principals relied on their spirituality for guidance to buoy or buffer them psychologically in their daily work. Secondly, some believed that they were constantly scrutinized by colleagues and superiors. Race played an important part in their perception of feeling scrutinized, yet they felt scrutiny was sometimes self-imposed and affected their interactions with their white colleagues. Third, these African-American principals made a conscious effort to serve as role models for all students, but especially the few African-American students and faculty they led. In addition, these principals recognized that they served as racial bridge builders between the majority and minority cultures of the school. As school leaders and role models, the principals felt uniquely complicated tensions that were embedded in race and self-imposed perceptions about their daily work. All findings have contributed to the limited research on African-American principals in predominantly white schools and the reasons they continue to lead their schools.


African-American principals


2, vi, 76 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 68-76).


Copyright 2012 David Byron Brown