Caroline Tompkins believes that she was a schoolgirl from birth. In her earliest years, she lived two blocks from the University of Arizona campus, and by the time she started first grade, she could see her school just down the street. When the 1960s called her generation to public service, Caroline saw teaching as the key to creating a peaceful and just America. 

     After returning to graduate school expecting to become a college professor, Caroline detoured into a school district research job. She found herself loving the real world of schools, but she was abruptly shaken out of her belief that she could change the world through research. With some reluctance, she began to take the classes she would need to pursue a path in school leadership.


     Caroline brought her shy and bookish nature with her into the principalship. What was to have been a three-year job turned into a fifteen-year career. By the time she retired, she wondered why all her skills and experience had not prepared her for the job to grow more difficult as the years passed. This book represents her attempt to sift and examine the real events of her time on the job to discover answers to this question.

​Caroline in

Fourth Grade

The Book     


     Principal: A Personal History reveals the author's improbable fifteen-year journey leading schools in her hometown, a place where the American Dream meets the social politics of the borderlands. Jump right into the swirl of a single day in the spring of the author’s final year on the job. Watch and listen as children and adults, conversations and crises, along with missteps and small victories, all compete for the principal’s attention.


    The story winds backward in time to reveal the rough start the author experienced at her first school, and the surprising challenges of moving on to her second, where the job got harder instead of easier.


     Cutting across the competing versions of school reform, this principal’s personal story exposes the inner workings of a job crucial to our nation, but a job in turmoil just below its hearty and earnest surface.


     While Principal is intended for the general reader, its details make it suitable as a case-study supplement in a graduate-level course for prospective principals.