Five Challenges of an Urban School Principal

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It’s a Challenging Job

All principals have a difficult and challenging job. It is a 24-hour gig. You are always on the go both physically and emotionally. Please note that being a principal in a rural, suburban, or urban district is tough. However, working in an urban school district sometimes bring additional demands based on socio-economics, demographics, and more. Consequently, some are not prepared for the demands’ toll on a principals’ health and wellness. Here are five challenges of an urban school principal.

What is an Urban School?

What is an urban school? According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), urban schools classify as city schools. The urban schools are broken down into three categories based on the Census Bureau’s definition of a metropolitan city.

  • Large – An urbanized area and principal city with a population of 250,000 or more
    Medium – An urbanized area and principal city with a population of 250,000 or less
    Small – An Urbanized area and principal city with a population of 100,000 or less

Social Problems

One challenge in urban schools are the social problems of the students, families, and community. Many times what happens outside of the school affects some things that happen inside the school. Urban school principals must recognize the effects of violence, drugs, homelessness, joblessness, and mental health issues make teaching and learning more difficult. A previous post discussed statistics on the percentage of children who witness or experienced a traumatic event. Many matters listed above are the causes of the traumatic events. Sadly, most principals and teachers are not trained to handle the children’s responses to the traumatic events.

Lack of Resources

Another challenge of urban school principals is lack of resources. Unfortunately, many urban schools do not receive adequate funding from local, state, and federal government agencies. When funding is minimal, an urban principal cannot afford to purchase sufficient curricular materials, technology hardware and software, and additional academic or extracurricular resources. Also, investing in social-emotional programs and supports is near impossible without adequate funding. Most often urban schoolchildren face a variety of disadvantages due to social issues of homelessness, joblessness, and possibly mental health issues. Often the children are at-risk students due to circumstances beyond their control.

Five Challenges of an Urban School Principal

Working in urban schools has many challenges. Photo by NeOnbrand on

Politics and Pressure

Principals in urban schools are always under pressure to raise test scores. Unfortunately with that pressure comes district politics and micromanagement. Because of federal, state and local policies, district administrators want to see the data. They want to look at the numbers and statistics steadily and quickly increasing. However, without the proper resources, urban principals and teachers continuously struggle to provide the resources needed to make sustainable growth.

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Intervention and Micromanagement

When students do not meet expectations or growth targets, the district administrators decide to intervene. When intervening most times, it’s a one size fits all approach. Typically, the micromanagers do not account for the social issues and trauma that students experience. Consequently, politics take over and lead without knowledge of the culture or inner workings of the school.

Stress and Burnout

Leading and teaching in an urban school are stressful. The trend is that stress levels tend to be higher in urban schools. Students experience trauma in their lives. When they attend school, principals and staff members absorb the shock and stress from the students. Secondary trauma is a reality for many educators. Eventually, the effects of trauma and stress are detrimental to their health.

Afterward, the stress leads to burnout. Urban school principals must deal with higher than average burnout rates. One in four of new teachers experiences burnout. One in five teachers at high poverty schools leaves each year. A fourth of principals exit their schools each year. Ultimately, high poverty schools have the highest percentage of principals exiting the profession. The exodus of principals and teachers is not suitable for students or schools. Students need consistency in relationships and support. However, many urban school students experience a revolving door of educators in and out of their schools.

These five challenges of an urban school principal is a short list. Of course, more challenges come and go during one’s tenure. However, the problems listed in this post are prevalent throughout our urban school districts. Furthermore, a more significant test is how to prepare educators better to handle or better yet eradicate these issues plaguing all of our schools.

Additional Resources

New Teachers, Urban Schools, and Dropouts: A National Problem, January 2018

New Teachers, Urban Schools, and Dropouts: A National Problem

Education and urban schools, May 2013

A Day in the Life of a Teacher in An Urban School, May 2013

The Urban Education Stigma, August 2017

Districts Matter: Cultivation the Principals Urban Schools Need, by the Wallace Foundation, 2013

How an unconventional principal turned around a struggling urban school
Education Sep 8, 2015 3:58 PM EDT

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