An inquiry into the leadership experiences of African American women principals in Catholic schools

Lucy Acheampong, Fordham University


This study analyses the experiences of African American women principals in Catholic elementary schools in the Archdioceses of New York and Newark and Diocese of Brooklyn. The study maintains that when leaders engage in reflective practices they create new stories; experiences are means to informed practices of effective leaders. After the researcher delved into literature of experiences of leaders who through the lens of critical theory and critical race theory reflect and critique a curriculum creatively in their leadership practice, 9 African American women principals in Catholic elementary schools were interviewed. The object of the research study was to ascertain how the principals were empowered to utilize their formative experiences in Catholic school leadership. Being principals in Catholic schools, they are charged with responsibilities to lead their schools beyond the academic field into religious dimension in order to transmit Catholic culture to future generations. How the experiences of these principals reflected their leadership behaviors in transmitting Catholic character and ethos in Catholic schools under their care was the major discussion in this study. Basically, the method for data collection was in-depth interview. The interview protocol centered on four main domains: How the principals' leadership emerged; race gender and class issues; leadership skill for creation of inclusive school cultures; and appropriateness of their training for Catholic school leadership. The four extended interviews centered on the question “What does it mean to be African American, Catholic, and principal in a Catholic school?” This was to delve into the principals' experiences on racism, gender and power issues, their Catholicity or spirituality and professional experiences in their daily practices. In brief, to delve into the reflective practices based on the formative experiences of the nine principals. Other data was retrieved through shadowing of principals, observing the school environment, informal conversations with principals, and review of documents, to confirm what was discussed in the interview. These 9 principals demonstrated how reflective they were on their experiences in their leadership practices in Catholic schools. The study was analyzed through the lens of critical theory and critical race theory. The findings confirmed that all the nine principals demonstrated to varying degrees, critical theories to creatively critique the curriculum and the whole school environment and how they operate for student learning and achievement. Each of the principals succinctly expressed how they utilize the power reposed in them to provide their minority children value-based Catholic education. Additionally, they were determined to develop the critical minds of these students by instilling in them the notion that no obstacles could be on their way and their dreams would not be beyond reach if they have the right mind-sets. Although the 9 principals confirmed that racism was not an issue in their leadership roles in Catholic schools, they have become, nonetheless, part of their formative experiences around which they perform their duties. Due to these formative experiences the principals engaged in leadership behaviors compatible with Catholic education and its mission on its schools. Despite the expression of power vested in them, they were without anxieties and challenges, which were finance and non-Catholic population of students. The study concluded with further reflections on the study, as well as recommendations for further research, policy, and current practice.

Subject Area

Black studies|Womens studies|Educational administration|African American Studies

Recommended Citation

Acheampong, Lucy, "An inquiry into the leadership experiences of African American women principals in Catholic schools" (2009). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3361346.