The rural superintendency: Creating a culture of aspiration out of a tradition of rootedness
Rey, Janeil C.
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This dissertation addresses how school superintendents in high needs rural districts in New York State develop consensus with their constituents around the definition of a quality educational program. How the superintendents navigate and build a culture of quality through their leadership is also examined. This is a comparative case study of two rural school superintendents designed to present a contextualized description of district level leadership in the rural high needs environment. I conducted interviews with the superintendents and their constituents including Board of Education members, principals, teachers, parents, and community members. In addition to interviews, I observed the superintendents in meetings and reviewed district produced newsletters. The findings of this study indicate that the role of superintendent is context specific. It appears that superintendents must understand and be appropriately responsive to their specific community context. Their knowledge of the community helped these superintendents to build consensus around a view of quality education which included addressing the varied needs of students including physical emotional, and social needs as well as academic. In addition, an expectation of quality education in a rural environment appears to be that it is conducted in a fiscally conservative manner. I used Susan Moore Johnson's (2006) three spheres of superintendent leadership, specifically educational, managerial, and political leadership as a start point for my analysis. These realms were extended by the findings of the study. Specifically, the sphere of educational leadership included direction setting for the district and mentoring of staff particularly principals. In addition, these superintendents established and developed a strong connection to children. Through managerial leadership the superintendents' role was characterized by longevity of tenure and a flattened administrative structure that more closely connected them to teaching and learning. In terms of political leadership, the superintendents were accessible and consciously worked to build a close connection to the community, to honor community traditions, and to be responsive to community needs through a leadership characterized by transparency. These superintendents worked to create an aspirational culture within their districts believing that education was the vehicle for their students out of the impoverished communities with limited economic opportunities.