In the past, she has served as the Principal of Al Fatih Academy for seven years. As such, she called herself a “native researcher,” having both research and experiential expertise in the subject matter.
At the same time, she cautioned that her talk is neither autobiographical nor about Al Fatih Academy – rather, it draws on meticulous interviews she has conducted with female leaders of various Islamic schools across the nation over a period of time. These included Principals, Assistant Principals working with male principals, school administrators, and even a female board member.
In a very organized, lucid, and engaging presentation, Dr. Amaarah drew from academic research as well as subject interviews, discussing both theory and reality. She explained that previous scholarship does not focus on leadership of American Islamic schools or women leaders of these institutions. Describing her interview-based qualitative study, she spoke of women who came into leadership positions through a variety of routes, many of whom decide to advance their education after assuming the role of a Principal.
Dr. Amaarah mentioned the range of roles and responsibilities of a female Islamic school leader go beyond the educational functioning of the school and often require know-how of construction management, zoning laws, and design-related matters. She said that one school leader described herself as “MacGyver” because she had to fix whatever got broken.
In addition to these duties, they must be there for students, teachers, and parents. Even as they are professionalizing their own roles and providing professional development for their staff, they must also deal with the school board, members of which are predominantly male and lack any background in education. Furthermore, school leaders must deal with not only the curriculum and instruction, they have fiscal matters to attend to as well. Dr. Amaarah mentioned one principal who said she also plays the role of “front desk receptionist on a daily basis.”
While there are many studies out there on public schools which focus on similar issues, Dr. Amaarah outlined two distinct differences: relationship with school board and sustainability of the school. Islamic School principals feel that “if they do not do their job, the school will collapse or decline,” she stated. Indeed, she said principals put in many, many extra hours to the neglect of their family and their own health.
Yet, what keeps these women going? Dr. Amaarah cited the amazing support they have from their husbands and fathers along with the inspiration they draw from God and His Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. Her interview subjects repeatedly told her that they are not in it for the glory.
In the future, Dr. Amaarah hopes to expand her research to include Clara Muhammad school leaders and “develop a similar understanding of the roles and responsibilities of men leading American Islamic schools.” Moreover, she wishes to explore ways in which leadership practices in Islamic schools can be extended to other faith-based schools.
Dr. Amaarah’s presentation resonated with audience members, many of whom were themselves leaders of schools, as they actively asked questions and shared their experiences, making it quite apparent that her subject matter is very relevant and current for the contemporary American Muslim community.