Research on the Superintendency

The purpose of this series is to explore the most current research in the contemporary American school superintendency. Today’s school environments present vastly different considerations for educational leaders. As the district’s executive leader, the 21st century school superintendent must be prepared to tackle and embrace a new terrain focused on practices promoting justice and equity for every child as well as responding to myriad contextual and environmental factors. Harvey, Cambron-McCabe, Cunningham, & Koff (2013) identified a school superintendent must: 1) lead, not just manage, their school system, 2) lead without an ideal governance structure, 3) understand learning and assessment, 4) concentrate on equity and close the achievement gap, 5) develop principals, 6) collaborate, and 7) engage the community. In addition, a meta-analysis conducted by Waters and Marzano (2006) found that district leadership matters and through collaboration, focused goal-setting, alignment of goals and resources, and monitoring student achievement, effective superintendents are able to make a difference by fostering goal-oriented systems.

Despite significant findings on the critical role, responsibilities, and system impact of the school’s executive leader, a commitment to focused research on the superintendency is needed. Our schools are changing and require a new focus, understanding, and response to diverse learning environments. Leading for social justice must be a primary consideration when studying the role of the superintendent and impact of her/his leadership. Garza (2008) states, “Leading for social justice incites political unrest because the hegemonic culture will resist change that provides equity to all members of society” (p. 163). The contemporary school district leader must recognize this challenge.

The superintendent is vital to this leadership response. This series creates a substantial opportunity for university scholars and practicing superintendents to come together in order to identify timely research topics important to 21st century superintendent leadership.

Garza Jr, E. (2008). Autoethnography of a first-time superintendent: Challenges to leadership for social justice. Journal of Latinos and Education, 7(2), 163-176.
Harvey, J., Cambron-McCabe, N., Cunningham, L.L., & Koff, R.H. (2013). The Superintendent’s Fieldbook. (2nd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Waters, T.J., & Marzano, R.J. (2006). School District Leadership that Works: The effect of superintendent leadership on student achievement. Denver, CO: McRel.