Where's the principal? An interpretive career biography of retired female secondary school principals

Debra Melton-Livingston, University of Texas at El Paso


The principal is critical to school success, yet principals are leaving the profession in record numbers for various reasons. This interpretive biography study focuses on the career experiences of three female secondary principals in El Paso County, Texas, who chose to retire early from the principalship. The purpose of this study is to provide a deep understanding of the reasons why these women decided to leave well before the United States age of average retirement—62 years. ^ The role of the principal in the United States has evolved since colonial times. Beginning in the 1920s, women began to find their way into the role, but have never outnumbered males in the principalship at the secondary level. This study was designed to understand the reasons women leave the position through their stories. The theoretical frameworks utilized for this study were Herzberg's Hygiene Theory (1959) and Lipham's Decision Theory. ^ The literature review includes a history of women in education and school administration, power relationships in schools, career paths of women, and retirement. ^ Several conclusions resulted from the research. These three women did not retire as the result of health issues. Two of the women chose early retirement because of experiencing micromanagement by central office personnel including their superintendents. The other chose to retire early because of family dynamics. In addition, the “Rule of 80” influenced their decisions to retire. The State of Texas Retirement System created a way for them to retire as early as 52 years of age and still remain financially sound. Finally, mentoring was a factor. None of the women experienced formal mentoring, which may have contributed to their “point of exit.” ^

Subject Area

Women's Studies|Education, Administration

Recommended Citation

Melton-Livingston, Debra, "Where's the principal? An interpretive career biography of retired female secondary school principals" (2005). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3151887.