Another early study of the p-p model – an estimated 24% of U.S. Catholic high schools had adopted the model as the study’s writing. The purpose of the study was to examine the form, function, rationale, and advantages/disadvantages of the model, as well as assess if it has fulfilled its promise of meeting the problems of complexity, time, and overload associated with the “traditional model of the principal as the autonomous administrator.”

The study sought to include all presidents and principals of Catholic high schools in the U.S. and got a 57% response rate. The central theme of the story of the adoption of the p-p model as Dygert tells it is: in the decades leading up the 1990s the role of principal became increasingly complex, diverse in task, ambiguous, and overloaded – especially with “managerial” work (Bryk, Lee, and Holland 1993). In addition, responsibilities for stewardship and development, public relations, alumni relations, and strategic planning grew and were placed on the already full plate of the Principal. The bottom line of this story is that the job of the Principal became “too much for one person to deal with (Robinson, O’Leary, Ciriello 1993).

I have no doubt that these responsibilities were hoisted upon principals and that it was overwhelming; what I do doubt is that the p-p model was the only, let alone the best, solution to the problem. Based on much of what follows in Dygert’s Review of the Literature (ROL), it seems as if the p-p model was simply adopted wholesale from the business CEO-COO model. One large clue here is the operational definitions provided by Dygert of the words “president” and “principal.” The president is the “Chief Executive Officer of a Catholic high school” and a principal is the “Chief Operating Officer of a Catholic high school.” (p. 10) There seems here a simple equivalence: president = CEO; principal = COO. But is this a naive equivalence? Is is possible for the president of a catholic high school to merely be its CEO? or for a principal to be the school’s COO?

This begs multiple questions. Is a category mistake being made in transferring the leadership organization of the “for profit” world to the “nonprofit” world? Does not organizational design impact the fundamental goals of an organization (profit vs. mission)? Can the roles of CEO or COO include the spiritual reality, the Catholic reality, the full moral and theological reality of a Catholic school? [The same must be said of a school’s CFO –> a better acronym at a Catholic school might be CFS – Chief Financial Steward!] At SI, our new president has eschewed the presidential title in favor of the more traditionally Ignatian “Director of the Work.” This is not a rejection of the fiscal, fundraising, PR, and strategic responsibilities of president, but a recognition that the role is significantly more than those tasks.

Regardless of the p-p / CEO-COO parallels, the reality of too much placed on the principal’s plate remains and the central question of the study is rather simple and direct:

In practice, are two heads better than one?

One question that emerges here but doesn’t seem to be addressed in the ROL is the fact that these are not two equal heads. There is inequality of power and authority (though not necesarilly influence) between president and principal – the president hires and fires the principal. It seems to me the “two heads better than one” assumption involves a parity that does not exist in the p-p model.

The more I read and think about the p-p model, the more critical and wary I become.

More to come from Dygert (and me!) in my next post . . .