Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Kathleen Lynch


Researchers have shown that principals are vital to improving student academic achievement. Urban principals often face significant challenges in their environments and have large populations of at-risk students. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore and describe the perceptions of urban high school principals regarding the type of leadership practices needed to support the academic progress of at-risk students. Elements from transformational leadership, transformative leadership, and effective leadership practices informed the conceptual framework. Research questions addressed how principals described and perceived the practices, processes, and procedures used to create environments that support students in urban high schools in a southcentral state in the United States. Data were collected by reviewing state accountability reports and school report cards and through semistructured individual interviews with 5 principals who led schools where consistent growth occurred over a 3-year period. A combination of in vivo and second cycle coding was used to support thematic analysis. Themes included understanding leadership styles and traits, identifying challenges and barriers, creating and implementing a vision, building relationships, and establishing a positive climate and culture. Participants indicated trusting relationships with faculty, staff, parents, students, and community stakeholders in addition to understanding the specific contexts within which their students live informed effective practices to improve student performance. Key recommendations include specific professional preparation and continued learning opportunities for urban high school principals; this will support positive social change by improving instruction and building principal and teacher capacity as they serve students in urban settings.