Turnaround principals in urban schools: Case studies of leadership and process

Roberto Padilla, Fordham University


Increasingly, education reform advocates have pointed to the for-profit sector for examples on how to turn around failing organizations that, whether a company or a school, have myriad challenges that require real reform. However, in education, improving failing schools continues to be an anomaly. With decades of strategies, research, and reform efforts, the United States (U.S.) is no closer today to closing the achievement gap than it was when A Nation at Risk was published in 1983. There are more than 5,000 failing schools in America that serve our future populace. To meet the challenge of improving these schools, the turnaround approach, defined as the quick, dramatic, and sustained change in academic school performance, was conceived. Consequently, this approach has given rise to the turnaround principal. This study investigates the turnaround phenomenon through the lived experiences and leadership of four New York City principals. Through a phenomenological case-study investigation of two middle and two high schools, the study finds inconclusive evidence that turnaround leadership and process differs at these levels. However, these principals' stories reflect conclusive evidence that improving a failing school quickly and dramatically requires a new leadership approach. In particular, the study finds that participants strive to be instructional leaders, to function as executives, to lead in a culture of change, to influence others, to persevere without turnaround knowledge and experience, to share leadership, to overcome challenges, to change mindsets, to seek support, to communicate clearly, and to meet accountability standards.

Subject Area

Educational leadership

Recommended Citation

Padilla, Roberto, "Turnaround principals in urban schools: Case studies of leadership and process" (2013). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3591277.