Why Rural Principals Leave

Cindy Hansen


The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the factors that influenced a principal’s decision to leave his or her rural school. Six principals who left their rural Minnesota schools within the previous year were interviewed to determine the perceived factors that led to their departure decisions. Factors were grouped into personal, institutional, and environmental categories. Interviews were transcribed, coded, and analyzed for themes through a rigorous process that included inter-rater reliability checks with an independent researcher and repeated member checks with respondents. Themes were codes that occurred for more than half of respondents and included Family Needs, Career Aspirations, Community Expectations, Workload, Lack of Professional Support, Superintendent and School Board (General Decisions or Relationship), and Superintendent and School Board (Principal Salary and Contract Negotiations). Limitations and suggestions for future research are discussed.



principal; school; turnover; rural


Akiba, M., & Reichardt, R. (2004). What predicts the mobility of elementary school leaders? An analysis of longitudinal data in Colorado. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 12(18).

Baker, B. D., Punswick, E., & Belt, C. (2010). School leadership stability, principal moves, and departures: Evidence from Missouri. Educational Administration Quarterly, 46(4), 523-557. doi:10.1177/0013161X10383832

Battle, D. (2010). Principal attrition and mobility: Results from the 2008-09 principal follow-up survey. First look. (No. 2010-337). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

Beteille, T., Kalogrides, D., & Loeb, S. (2012). Stepping stones: Principal career paths and school outcomes. Social Science Research 41, 904–919. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.03.003

Blanton, R. E., & Harmon, H. L. (2005). Building capacity for continuous improvement of math and science education in rural schools. The Rural Educator, 26(2), 6-11.

Branch, G. F., Hanushek, E. A., & Rivkin, S. G. (2013). School leaders matter. Education Next, 13(1), 62-69.

Brockmeier, L. L., Starr, G., Green, R., Pate, J. L., & Leech, D. W. (2013). Principal and school-level effects on elementary school student achievement. International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, 8(1), 49-61.

Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Cruzeiro, P. A., & Boone, M. (2009). Rural and small school principal candidates: Perspectives of hiring superintendents. The Rural Educator, 31(1), 1-9.

DeAngelis, K. J., & White, B. R. (2011). Principal turnover in Illinois public schools, 2001-2008. (No. 2011-2). Southern Illinois University: Illinois Education Research Council.

Ewington, J., Mulford, B., Kendall, D., Edmunds, B., Kendall, L., & Silins, H. (2008). Successful school principalship in small schools. Journal of Educational Administration, 46(5), 545-561. doi:10.1108/09578230810895483

Farley-Ripple, E., Solano, P. L., & McDuffie, M. J. (2012). Conceptual and methodological issues in research on school administrator career behavior. Educational Researcher, 41(6), 220-229.

Gates, S. M., Ringel, J. S., Santibanez, L., Guarino, C., Ghosh-Dastidar, B., & Brown, A. (2006). Mobility and turnover among school principals. Economics of Education Review, 25(3), 289-302. doi:10.1016/j.econedurev.2005.01.008

Graham, L., Paterson, D., & Miller, J. (2008). Leadership in Australian rural schools: Bush track, fast track. New York, NY: Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

Greenfield, W. D., Jr. (1983). Career dynamics of educators: Research and policy issues. Educational Administration Quarterly, 19(2), 5-26.

Hacker, H. K. (2015, July 28). A principal concern: 1 in 3 Dallas ISD schools will have new leaders in fall. The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved from http://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/headlines/20150725-a-principal-concern-1-in-3-dallas-isd-schools-will-have-new-leaders-in-fall.ece

Halsey, R. J., & Drummond, A. (2014). Reasons and motivations of school leaders who apply for rural, regional and remote locations in Australia. Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, 24(1), 69-77.

Illinois State Board of Education. (2016). eReport card public site. Retrieved from http://webprod.isbe.net/ereportcard/publicsite/getsearchcriteria.aspx

Kraegel, L. (2016, January 27). Nome public schools considers new program to fight principal turnover. KNOM Radio Mission. Retrieved from http://www.knom.org/wp/blog/2016/01/27/nome-public-schools-considers-new-program-to-fight-principal-turnover/

Lock, G., Budgen, F., Lunay, R., & Oakley, G. (2012). The loneliness of the long-distance principal: Tales from remote western Australia. Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, 22(2), 65-77.

Loeb, S., Kalogrides, D., & Horng, E. L. (2010). Principal preferences and the uneven distribution of principals across schools. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 32(2), 205-229. doi:10.3102/0162373710369833

Mascall, B., & Leithwood, K. (2010). Investing in leadership: The district's role in managing principal turnover. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 9(4), 367-383.

Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Miller, A. (2013). Principal turnover and student achievement. Economics of Education Review, 36, 60-72. doi:10.1016/j.econedurev.2013.05.004

Morford, L. M. (2002). Learning the ropes or being hung: Organizational socialization influences on new rural high school principals. (No. ED464783). Eastern Illinois University: Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2013). Schools and staffing survey [Data file]. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/sass/tables_list.asp

Orcher, L. T. (2014). Conducting research: Social and behavioral science methods (2nd ed.). Glendale, CA: Pyrczak Publishing.

Papa, F., Jr. (2007). Why do principals change schools? A multivariate analysis of principal retention. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 6(3), 267-290. doi:10.1080/15700760701263725

Patten, M. L. (2014). Understanding research methods: An overview of the essentials (9th ed.). Glendale, CA: Pyrczak Publishing.

Partlow, M. C., & Ridenour, C. S. (2008). Frequency of principal turnover in Ohio's elementary schools. Mid-Western Educational Researcher, 21(2), 15-16.

Pijanowski, J. C., & Brady, K. P. (2009). The influence of salary in attracting and retaining school leaders. Education and Urban Society, 42(1), 25-41. doi:10.1177/0192636509343963

Pijanowski, J. C., Hewitt, P. M., & Brady, K. P. (2009). Superintendents' perceptions of the principal shortage. NASSP Bulletin, 93(2), 85-95. doi:10.1177/0192636509343963

Preston, J. P., Jakubiec, B. A. E., & Kooymans, R. (2013). Common challenges faced by rural principals: A review of the literature. The Rural Educator, 35(1).

Shoho, A. R., & Barnett, B. G. (2010). The realities of new principals: Challenges, joys, and sorrows. Journal of School Leadership, 20(5), 561-596.

Starr, K., & White, S. (2008). The small rural school principalship: Key challenges and cross-school responses. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 23(5), 1-12.

Sun, M., & Ni, Y. (2016). Work environments and labor markets: Explaining principal turnover gap between charter schools and traditional public schools. Educational Administration Quarterly, 52(1), 144-183.

Tekleselassie, A. A., & Villarreal III, P. (2011). Career mobility and departure intentions among school principals in the United States: Incentives and disincentives. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 10(3), 251-293. doi:10.1080/15700763.2011.585536

The Chicago Public Education Fund. (2015). Chicago's fight to keep top principals: 2015 school leadership report. Retrieved from http://thefundchicago.org/bestcitytolead/

Tran, H. (2017). The impact of pay satisfaction and school achievement on high school principals' turnover intentions. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 45(4), 621-638. doi:10.1177/1741143216636115

Tuoti, G., & Sanna, J. (2016, April 11). Many factors contribute to principal turnover. The Arlington Advocate. Retrieved from http://arlington.wickedlocal.com/article/20120160/NEWS/160419787

Full Text: PDF


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Publication of the National Rural Education Association - http://www.nrea.net

Report problems or questions about to the website to jshedd@library.msstate.edu