Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

A Research-Based Approach to the President-Principal Model: Problems, Dynamics, and High Performance through Administrative Alignment

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

A Research-Based Approach to the President-Principal Model: Problems, Dynamics, and High Performance through Administrative Alignment

Article excerpt

The popularity of the president-principal model heralds a paradigmatic change that deploys full-time administrative attention to the dual concerns of long-term institutional advancement and the daily demands of leading a Catholic school marked by academic excellence (James, 2007). This model has become a widespread administrative structure of Catholic secondary schools in the twenty-first century (Urbancic, 2004). This article will focus on the problematic aspects of the model, explore the dynamics that might lie behind these problematic areas, recommend constructive action that can be taken by presidents and principals to improve their performance through administrative alignment, and provide some insight for those considering moving into the model and those currently using the model.

The Rise of the President-Principal Model

The president-principal model became a dominant administrative model for Catholic secondary education as an evolutionary adaptation to environmental change that has gradually won widespread acceptance (see Table 1). In the period after 1965, termed "a generation of crises" (Walch, 1996, p. 169), Catholic secondary schools responded to the rapid drop in enrollment, the rise in lay faculty and requisite higher salaries and benefits, and the increased competition for market-savvy students by creating lay boards, increasing tuition, and by adopting recruitment, development, and business operation models used in higher education (James, 2004). This newly expansive role for Catholic school administration made it increasingly difficult for an autonomous principal to provide adequate leadership in all these areas. Dygert (2000) reports that "the majority of presidents and principals agreed that the most important reasons for the model are development and fundraising along with the related activities of public relations, marketing, and strategic planning" (p. 18).

Several studies point to the success of the model from the self-reported perceptions of the practitioners (Dygert, 1998; Jesuit Secondary Educational Association [JSEA], 1991; Mullen 1998; Pasi, 1995). The studies also note that the success of the model is highly relationship dependent (Dygert, 1998; JSEA, 1991; Mullen 1998; Pasi, 1995). Pasi (1995) states, "virtually all indicated that the key to the success of the structure is the personalities of the president and the principal" (p. 50). Administrator satisfaction is also correlated with the administrator's assessment of the model's success (Mullen, 1998). However, logic dictates that a necessary condition may not be a sufficient one; personally compatible and satisfied administrators may not necessitate the success of the model.

An Unworkable Model?

Bennis (1989), commenting on the CEO-COO model (the corporate analog of the president-principal model), remarks, "Ironically ... even when the CEO and COO function happily together, they can run into big trouble, as mutual admiration is not necessarily relevant, much less productive" (p. 78). Some evidence from the field supports this conclusion. A recent study by Brown (2004) of personality within the president-principal model found that the president's emotional intelligence empathy score is negatively correlated with the principal's emotional intelligence motivation score. The generalization of this finding is that the more empathetic the president, the less goal oriented the principal. Dygert (1998) in surveying presidents and principals found that 3% "strongly agree" and 23% "somewhat agree" that constituents perceive the model as unnecessarily bureaucratic. Dygert, citing the presentation of Nick and Doyle (1994), contends that this negative perception likely will prevail if constituents do not see any visible benefits to the school as a result of the implementation of the model. One president went so far as to say that "fundraising and institutional development efforts must increase or implementing the model is pointless" (Dygert, 1998, p. …

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