A Closer Look at Rural Superintendents

Article excerpt

Abstract

The rural superintendency has not received much attention in the educational leadership literature. Using quantitative survey of superintendents in rural Oklahoma districts, we collected information about the characteristics and problems faced by rural superintendents in Oklahoma. We then compared and contrasted our findings with other national surveys. We believe the results will focus attention on rural school leaders and be of particular interest to educational administrators, policy makers from rural states, and scholars who study superintendents in rural areas.

Historically, educational researchers have focused on many dimensions of public education. However, information about the top educational leadership position has not received much attention in the literature. The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) collects such fundamental data as basic characteristics of school superintendents in the United States approximately each decade. However, the unique character of the rural superintendency is often obfuscated by national surveys and the current focus in the literature on urban superintendents.

Accordingly, the primary objective of this research project was to collect precise information about the characteristics of and problems faced by superintendents in Oklahoma, a state dominated by rural school districts. Although focused on one state, we believe .the results will be of interest to educational administrators, policy makers in rural states, and scholars who study superintendents in rural areas. A second objective was to contribute to the national discussion surrounding the rural school superintendency. This survey of Oklahoma superintendents elicited data regarding sociological and demographic information, professional training and work experience, major problems, and responsibilities.

When possible, the results are compared to national surveys of superintendent characteristics to provide additional context (see Cooper, Fusarelli, and Carella, 2000; Glass, 1992; Glass, Bjork, and Bruner, 2000). Because we are interested specifically in the rural Oklahoma to rural US comparisons of superintendents, our data for this discussion has been disaggregated. The results we report examine only superintendents who identified themselves as working in rural districts. These results are compared to national surveys of superintendents and, when possible, to the rural superintendent subgroup in various national studies.

Methods and Data Sources

The study employed quantitative methods. We developed a voluntary and confidential survey in association with the Oklahoma Association of School Administrators, the primary funding source for the project. The instrument consisted of 31 questions concerning the gender, ethnicity, age, educational background, professional experiences, tenure, district type, job mobility, school board relations, and primary tasks and responsibilities of Oklahoma superintendents.

We initially piloted the survey with a sample population in the fall of 1999, and established content validity by submitting the instrument to experts in this research area. In an attempt to achieve a census of information, each of the 547 superintendents in the state received a packet the following spring containing a cover letter explaining the project, consent form, survey, and stamped return envelope. We established test validity by administering the same instrument four weeks after the initial survey to a representative sample of the population.

Surveys of superintendents can be plagued by extremely low response rates. While simultaneously dealing with personnel, student, and community issues, superintendents often assign a low priority to responding to surveys. Given these realities, we were pleased with the 64% response rate for this research. Of the 547 packets mailed, 350 superintendents returned usable surveys. Several did not include the consent form and thus could not be used. …