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Understanding Why Principals Leave or Stay in Challenging Urban Schools


There is growing concern with principal turnover in urban schools. School districts are

struggling to find qualified and effective principals to lead schools. With accountability on the

rise and increasing demands, the job has become more challenging than in previous years. Using

a case study format, this study focuses on six principals, 3 principals that have left the position

and 3 principals currently in their position at the elementary level at different challenging schools

in the Bay Area of California. Through interviews, this study focuses on the micropolitics of

school organization and management relations and how those dynamics influence principals'

decision to stay or leave the job.

The findings in this study indicate that there are three sources of micropolitical stress for

leaving and staying principals: 1) mandated programs; 2) staffing issues, including hiring, firing,

racial, and power plays by teachers; undermining principal authority; and 3) relationships with

the district.

The most difficult relationship to manage for leaving principals was the district. Due to a lack

of support by the district, leaving principals felt isolated disempowered and disenfranchised.

This led to a loss of a sense of self-efficacy. In contrast to leaving principals, staying principals

had supportive collaborative relationship with central office. They were able to better navigate

micropolitical tension at school sites. Their senses of self-efficacy (or competence at their jobs)

resulted from the relative success of overcoming those challenges.

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