Roots and wings: A descriptive analysis of the practice of White principals of Catholic, African American elementary schools

Stephen Schlitte, Fordham University


This study proposes a theory of leadership of White principals of Catholic, African American elementary schools. The theory maintains that effective White principals attend to cultural synchronicity between the students, home culture and their school culture. It is proposed that when a high degree of synchronicity exists, African American students succeed academically. After constructing the theory of leadership, the researcher interviewed four elementary school principals who were nominated as effective by their district superintendents. The object of the research was to determine how, and to what degree, they illustrated the proposed theory in their daily practice. The primary method of data collection was the in-depth interview. The interview protocol centered on three domains: spiritual leadership, communication across cultural lines, and how each principal used African American social mores to foster academic excellence. The three extended interviews centered on the informants, life history, current experience, and reflection on their current practice. Other data emerged through shadowing the principals, informal conversations with students, faculty, pastors, and parents, limited document review and a variety of other activities that enabled the researcher to confirm what was stated in the interviews. These four principals illustrated, to varying degrees, the proposed theory of leadership. Each clearly articulated his/her role in providing an African American context for their constituencies as they went about the task of spiritual leadership and communicating across cultural lines. They were aware of, and could articulate, various African American cultural mores, and used them to foster academic excellence. In short, these principals manifested strong evidence to support the proposed leadership theory. The study concluded with further reflections on the data, as well as recommendations for future research, policy, and practice.

Subject Area

Educational administration|Bilingual education|Elementary education|Black studies|Ethnic studies|African American Studies

Recommended Citation

Schlitte, Stephen, "Roots and wings: A descriptive analysis of the practice of White principals of Catholic, African American elementary schools" (1999). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9938917.