Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Mary Woods Scherr, PhD, Chair; William P. Foster, EdD; Edward Kujawa PhD


assistant principals, adolescents, education, Ethnography, Leadership studies, qualitative, San Diego (California), secondary schools


School leadership research typically centers around the high profile roles of the site level principal and the district superintendent. The resulting scarcity of information in regard to the role of the assistant principal is contributing to ineffective training, fewer initial guidelines and an overall lack of clear conceptualization of the position. The purpose of this study was to construct a realistic portrayal of the assistant principal's daily professional life in the educational arena. This qualitative, ethnographic study stressed depth, richness and accuracy to depict the singular and collective voices of the participants. Eight practicing Junior and Senior High School assistant principals in San Diego County were interviewed individually as well as collectively in focus group interviews. In addition they completed a survey and were asked to complete two one-day logs documenting their activities and interactions. Findings of the study showed that the world of the practicing assistant principal is in constant motion and filled with an amazing range of potentially volatile, thought provoking human interactions. There is a technical side where each decision is required to be made with skill, immediacy and a certain permanency. The role is unpredictable and while many assistant principals strive to accomplish leadership, the sheer number of disciplinary interactions and daily interruptions often supersede their attempts at impacting change. The greatest challenges for practicing assistant principals include: accepting the continual lack of closure or time, accumulating the diverse knowledge-base needed to be responsive to the endless array of problem solving situations they encounter, and acknowledging the public, political nature of their role. They strive to meet these challenges by building cohesive teams, sharing humor, celebrating successes, and readjusting their expectations of themselves and others. Suggestions for improved training programs and inservices specific to the role were abundant and were felt to be vital to the success and safety of assistant principals. Immediate needs include: a reduction in hours, (they averaged 12 hour days), assistance with continual supervision, and greater autonomy and learning opportunities. A primary frustration with the role was the inability to structure their time to engage in systematically planned leadership activities. The fact that leadership occurs at all is due to purposeful time utilization, will power and a high level of commitment to the betterment of the human condition. Analysis of the role offered an enlightened view of the role of the secondary school assistant principal in the tumultuous educational system called school.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access