Factors that Contribute to the Retention of Principals in High-Poverty School Districts: A Multiple Case Study

Rosalyn Graham

Document Type Article


The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand factors that motivate longstanding principals in three high-poverty South Carolina public school districts. Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory and self-determination theory were used to guide the research questions. The epistemological paradigm was subjectivism. Thirteen principals shared their subjective views. My ontological assumption was constructivism because it involves an individual’s own understanding. My axiological assumption was that research is value-laden and biases will be present. Data collection included in-depth interviews, a focus group, and an analysis of documents. Analysis occurred through coding, within-case analysis, pattern identification, thick case description, and across-case analysis. The participants remained long term at high-poverty schools because of their conviction that the principalship was a mission and a calling. Character traits played a role in motivating the participants toward longevity, evident in several themes: treat all with respect, loving children, and loving education. Principals’ self-perceptions also played a role in contributing to long-term principalship. These self-perceptions included wanting to stay, creating and developing teams, taking care of your teachers, and creating communities. Professional learning opportunities were important to the principals. In addition to professional development courses, principals found networking, curriculum development, and constant learning important. This study revealed the significance of sharing necessary skills and strategies and describing the intrinsic rewards of being the principal of a high-poverty school to current and future high-poverty school principals. Effective long-term principals in high-poverty schools provide stability to their schools and to the communities they serve.