Principal Decision-Making and Extracurricular Activities

Logan, Kisha, Administration and Supervision - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Young, Michelle, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

There has been a long association between student participation in extracurricular activities (ECAs) and improved academic performance, motivation, and social/emotional adjustment (Fredericks & Simpkins, 2011; Simpkins, Vest, Delgado, & Price, 2012). Participation in extracurricular activities, however, is not equitable across racial groups. Research demonstrates that minority student participation is often lower than White students (Simpkins, Vest, Delgado, & Price, 2012). This capstone project examined middle school principals’ perceptions and decision-making practices regarding extracurricular activities in order to identify factors influencing principal decision-making. Additionally, this study explored how middle school principals’ beliefs about the significance of ECA programs and how they factor into the amount of time and resources they devote to their organization and whether these actions lead to increased participation for students of color.

The literature used to frame this study examined practices associated with effective leadership, the construct of connectedness, and the vast research on benefits of student participation in ECAs. Due to the emphasis in the study on ECA participation rates for students of color, literature discussing implications for participation rates for minority students and barriers to ECA participation were also explored. This mixed-methods study was conducted from October – December 2016 in Walker County Public Schools (a pseudonym), located in a Mid-Atlantic state. This district is the largest in the state and one of the largest in the United States with students representing over 150 countries and speaking over 130 languages. Lipsky’s theory of street-level bureaucracy (2010) was used as a conceptual framework to examine principal discretion in decision-making and how decisions are made regarding extracurricular activities.

Data were collected through a middle school principal survey, principal and assistant principal interviews. A district-level leader was also interviewed. In addition, a review of the schools’ and district webpages was conducted to analyze documents related to ECAs. Findings addressed how principal beliefs about extracurricular activities align with their decision-making and the implications of those decisions on students of color. The data revealed insights into how principals make decisions regarding middle school extracurricular programs in WCPS. When making decisions about ECAs, principals use their discretion to offer programs that respond to student interests and staff availability to serve as sponsors. Though principals believe student involvement in clubs and activities after school may have positive benefits, systematic processes differ from school to school. Furthermore, there are little to no district-wide monitoring processes to assess the participation rates for students thereby providing inconsistent equitable access to after school opportunities for students of color.

Based on these findings and the literature on ECAs, connectedness, and effective leadership practices the following recommendations were made:
1. Principals should be directly involved in ECA decision-making. It is at the principal’s discretion to designate another leader such as an assistant principal to lead the daily logistics of the after school program. However, regular communication and data dialogues are necessary to ensure success.
2. Middle school principals should establish school-based processes to collect and monitor student participation data. This data should be analyzed regularly and be used to inform the types of clubs and activities offered at each school and determine the level of engagement of students of color.
3. WCPS needs to re-evaluate allocation of funds for ECAs. It would benefit school programs if sponsor stipends were significantly increased. Equitable distribution of funds will assist schools who do not have active PTA or grant funding to aid in their ECA offerings. Furthermore, the district should explore opportunities for expanding current ECA partnerships or pursuing additional, large-scale grant funding to support middle school programs.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
Extracurricular activities, Street-level bureaucracy, Principal decision-making
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