Principal Adrian Peterson with a young student at St. Matthew School in San Mateo, completed her doctoral degree from the University of San Francisco on Dec. 16 with a dissertation that tracked the daily activities of Catholic elementary school principals. (Photo courtesy Adrian Peterson)
January 26, 2017
Catholic elementary school principals are job juggling multi taskers, a point Adrian Peterson proved in spades by completing her doctoral dissertation while at the same time learning the ropes as a first-time principal at St. Matthew School in San Mateo.
Almost six months to the day after starting her job at St. Matthew on Aug. 1, Peterson presented her study, “A Descriptive Study of the Daily Activities of a Catholic Elementary School Principal” to the faculty of the Department of Leadership Studies at the University of San Francisco’s School of Education. She earned her doctoral degree on Dec. 15 and has already presented her paper to an international educational conference.
“Catholic education is one of the most important challenges in the church,” said Peterson, who started the Organization and Leadership Program in 2011 while in her eighth year as vice principal of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School in Burlingame. “As a vice principal, I saw the realities of the job and I wanted to explore it more.”
The purpose of Peterson’s research was to examine and compile the daily activities of Catholic elementary principals using recognized and proven methodology and compare what she found with actual job descriptions. To date, according to Peterson, researchers have not yet detailed what Catholic elementary school principals actually do on a daily basis.
Peterson tracked the activities of five different Catholic elementary school principals and compared those activities to traditional and also existing job descriptions.
“My study is unique in that I was the first person to personally document their day-to-day, minute-by-minute activities,” said Peterson, who carefully selected principals serving different geographic, demographic and socioeconomic populations to establish a “norm.”
On her dissertation abstract, Peterson summarized that the study revealed that the time of a principal was spent in ways similar to that of a corporate CEO.
“Catholic elementary school principals today must maintain academic excellence and spiritual formation while keeping the school financially viable and relevant to the community,” she states in the report. Elements of the job that required relatively little attention decades ago when enrollment was at its peak now require more time of principals and challenge the institution, particularly in the areas of education and faith development.
Another challenge for principals, Peterson said, is maintaining and increasing enrollment. In the mid-1960s Catholic school enrollment was at well over 5 million students; in 2015 Catholic school enrollment was less than 1.5 million nationwide.
“Today’s school leaders must be skilled in fundraising, administration, curriculum development, teacher management, religious leadership, parent and parish relationship building,” she said.
Peterson was in a critical stage of her research last spring when the opportunity to interview for the principal’s position at St. Matthew School, her parish school, presented itself.
But like all good principals, she found or made the time.
“We are grateful to Mrs. Peterson undertaking this demanding transition at such a critical stage in her writing and defense,” said St. Matthew pastor Msgr. John Talesfore.
In her dissertation acknowledgments, Peterson thanked her community and family and even those who said she couldn’t do it.
“To family members who doubted I could do it; without having to prove them wrong it would have not been the fun excursion,” she said.