Ten African American Women’s Advancement in Public Education: Houston Phenomenological Study



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Background: African American women principals are underrepresented in public education. The National Teacher and Principal Survey for 2015-2016 reports the school principal distribution for women principals: African American - 6,340 (12.9 %), Hispanic- 4,100 (8.4%), and White, non-Hispanic 36, 830 (75.1 %). Houston, the 4th largest city in the United States which includes several large school districts, revealed a pattern of underrepresentation of women African American school principals. This underrepresentation per Texas Employed Principals Demographics 2013-2017 and Texas Academic Performance Report 2017 may be because of the teachers’ perceptions of the path for advancement into educational administration. Purpose: The purpose of this descriptive phenomenological study was to examine how African American women in the greater Houston area in public education seek and procure the position of school principal. Regardless of race, gender, and economic status, the principalship is an attainable goal. By examining and discussing the processes for advancement, a gap in the literature has been addressed providing a reference point for future educators. The research questions are: What are the perceptions and experiences of African American women principals hired in the greater Houston area: (1) of the pre-interview qualifying process, (2) the interview process, and the (3) post-interview process? Methods: This descriptive phenomenological study utilized the recommendations of educational colleagues for purposeful sampling. Ten African American women principals, from seven different school districts in the Houston area, were selected to examine the phenomenon of being hired. Participants were individually interviewed for transparency using semi-structured questions. The women verified transcriptions of the interviews for accuracy (member checking). Also, interviews were entered into Dedoose computer software for coding of common themes and patterns. The primary focus was to develop an understanding of the cognitive process of African American women principals hired in the greater Houston area. In addition to an in-depth interview, participants’ curriculum vitas, district human resource requirements, and archival data were examined. Findings: The key findings of the study revealed that half of the participants initially did not see themselves as public school principals. Additionally, each of the African American women principals interviewed spoke about the value of mentors who recognized their school leadership attributes and pushed them toward school leadership roles. Each participant stated that their mentors and advocates contributed to their procurement of the principalship. Conclusion: This research produced findings that point towards a need for increasing the representation of African American women principals in the greater Houston area. The requirements for the principalship interview process were clear and on-going. Staff development after being hired was required to learn how to prepare budgets, understand school finance, and other critical skills. Cognizant of the path for African American women who aspire to become principals, these women are enthusiastic about increasing the number of African American women principals. Lastly, each African American woman principal expressed gratitude for this rewarding assignment that has enabled them to mentor new principals.



African Americans, Principalship, Women leaders in public education, School leadership, Aspiring school leaders