A study of excellence: Principals in urban Catholic elementary schools

Maureen Alice Lamb, Fordham University


The environment in which urban Catholic elementary schools are expected to educate students provides little incentive toward success. Yet, mounting evidence points to the fact that Catholic elementary schools in urban areas are successful. Research has discovered that the success of a school is directly related to the leader, who is the principal. This is a study of the inner life of four excellent principals who lead urban Catholic elementary schools, and a closer look at the meaning they attach to their behaviors. This study was designed to uncover the inner dynamics that energize these principals and to discover their underlying operative principals, educational platforms, and interpretive maps. The research was qualitative in nature, built on a foundation of literature on effective urban elementary schools, educational leadership, Catholic education, critical theory, and reflective practice. Four excellent urban Catholic elementary school principals were selected through the Principal Perceiver (1989) developed by Gallup, Inc. The principals were further interviewed using critical incident exercises and criteria analysis questions. Cross case analysis and causal networks were used to analyze the data. The study found that these principals possess a core commitment to education for the poor, especially inner city children. They have a deep sense of spirituality which roots their mission in values and beliefs and bonds them to the people with whom they work. In essence these principals operate from a tacit philosophical base which orients them toward a greater good and empowerment of others. They exhibit reflection in action as they lead their schools, learning from their many experiences. Their beliefs and values show sensitivity to diversity and respect for the human person. In their decision making they seek the meaning behind events and situations. They act to empower others; build a responsive community in their schools; and are able to deal effectively with outbursts of violence and conflict. The study indicated that the excellent leader of an urban Catholic elementary school is one who consciously makes a choice to lead an urban school. This leader has a high tolerance for ambiguity and a real love for people accompanied by the skills of his/her profession.

Subject Area

School administration|Elementary education|Occupational psychology

Recommended Citation

Lamb, Maureen Alice, "A study of excellence: Principals in urban Catholic elementary schools" (1997). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9729613.