Theses Doctoral

Understanding the Public School District Superintendent: Self-perceptions and Role Expectations of Six White Superintendents From Massachusetts School Districts

Highhouse, Joyce Leslie

Given the position of school districts within the education ecosystem, superintendents are important to educational leadership discussions, particularly systems change or improvement discourse. Superintendents manage operations, oversee policy implementation, and affect the climate as well as strategic direction of multimillion-dollar school district organizations. Additionally, superintendents manage district staff and liaise with a governance body towards maximizing student outcomes as they are accountable for educating millions of students in the United States. Nevertheless, the district chief executive is under researched in education leadership literature. Moreover, superintendent identity is overlooked within education leadership research. This dissertation argues the lack of research centered on superintendents’ perceptions of themselves as school district administrators precludes a full appreciation of the superintendency. Further, without consideration of superintendent identity, theories of transformation and effective district leadership are incomplete. Thus, this dissertation’s purpose is to present results from an investigation of six White Massachusetts school district superintendents’ self-perceptions and role expectations. In addition, this dissertation study considered influences on these superintendents’ identities and leadership practices. This qualitative study, informed by phenomenological research methods, utilized the lens of identity theory to understand these participants as superintendents. From this research investigation, the findings revealed participants’ primary self-perception as superintendent was leader. Within this study, participants described superintendent identity in terms of state, district and local community contexts as promoting student achievement. Participants in this research investigation revealed they grappled with a tension resulting from connecting their self-concept to superintendent identity. Further, this study provides these superintendents’ self-perceptions and role expectations associated with education reform. In conclusion, this study extends the discourse regarding superintendent leadership while offering three major research contributions with implications for policy and practice: (1) a description of superintendent identity, including these superintendents’ characterizations of internalized role expectations, and self-perceptions as possible explanations of their leadership practices and; (2) conceptualizations of superintendent leadership of education reform from a sample of district chief executives, including that of filter or buffer; (3) a framework for understanding the superintendent through the lens of superintendent identity.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Organization and Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Bowers, Alex J.
Young, Jeffrey
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 6, 2019