Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Identifying the Factors That Contribute to Involuntary Departures of School Superintendents in Rural America

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Identifying the Factors That Contribute to Involuntary Departures of School Superintendents in Rural America

Article excerpt

Rural school districts play an integral role in the communities that they serve. Beyond providing students with the basic education and training that are important for securing an economic livelihood, rural school districts also provide economic support and serve as a cultural center in the community. Many researchers have suggested that the survival of rural communities depends on creating and sustaining collaborative partnerships with schools (Hobbs, 1991; Miller, 1993; Spears, Combs, & Bailey, 1990). It follows, therefore, that rural superintendents, acting as the face of their school districts, play a critical role in fostering these joint partnerships.

Superintendents'efforts, however, do have an associated cost. Specifically, superintendents must navigate turbulent environments involving elected boards, faculty and staff, community stakeholders, and fiscal constraints (Allen, 1998; Hodges, 2005; Hoyle, Bjork, Collier, & Glass, 2005; Glass & Franceschini, 2007). McCurdy and Hymes (1992) proposed that the demands of the position may be such that many superintendents are worn down and leave their jobs under duress or by nonrenewal of their employment contracts. Either of these scenarios is potentially detrimental to a school district's stability and, in turn, can negatively affect its short and long-term performance (Alsbury, 2008; Grissom & Anderson, 2012; Natkin, Cooper, & Alborano, 2002).

Few studies have focused on empirical testing of factors that contribute to superintendent turnover, including rural superintendent turnover (Grissom & Anderson, 2012). This absence has led researchers to suggest a further need for studies, using recent data to establish a well-developed research base (Fusarelli, 2005; Natkin et al., 2002; Petersen & Fusarelli, 2008). This study attempts to further the body of knowledge into the relation of occupational factors that increase the probability of a rural superintendent experiencing an involuntary departure.

The study model was estimated using partitioned data of 618 rural school district superintendents from 48 states who participated in a larger nationwide survey of 4,028 school superintendents across all 12 urban-centric locale categories as defined by the National Center for Education Statistics (Provasnik, KewalRamani, Coleman, Gilbertson, Herring, & Xie, 2007, p. 2). Logistic regression was chosen as the basis for modeling the relation. The dependent variable was a dichotomous measure that indicated whether a superintendent experienced a push or pull-induced departure. The independent variables were measurements thought to accurately capture the occupational pressures encountered by rural superintendents.

Examining Push and Pull Factors and Rural Superintendent Turnover

There are many reasons superintendents leave their positions other than termination by the school board (Grissom & Anderson, 2012). For example, Glass, Bjork, and Brunner (2000) found that many superintendents change jobs because of career advancement. McCurdy and Hymes (1992), on the other hand, cited a multitude of occupational stresses from internal and external sources as primary reasons for superintendent departures.

Much of the career movement research in the past 20 years suggests that leadership turnover is affected by what are called push and pull factors1 (Tekniepe & Stream, 2012), an underlying assumption of what this author proposes as Push-Pull Career Movement Theory. Push factors are most commonly associated with pressures that force leaders from their current positions. Push factors that affect rural superintendents can include conflict with the school board, pressures that originate from inside the organization, pressures from within the community, or simply negative perceptions of the superintendent's ability to adequately manage the fiscal affairs of the district. Pull factors, in contrast, are those typically facilitating his or her opportunity for professional, financial, or personal advancement to another jurisdiction. …

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