The New Politics of Race and Gender: The 1992 Yearbook of the Politics of Education Association

By Catherine Marshall | Go to book overview

13

Politicizing executive action: The case of Hispanic female superintendents

Flora Ida Ortiz and David Jude Ortiz

The dramatic demographic changes taking place in us society are being mirrored in our public schools. Minority students representing diverse groups are outnumbering white students. This diversity is, however, not reflected at the superintendency level. Thus, the position of the superintendent is affected in two major ways when it is assumed by a Hispanic female. First, it serves as a symbol for the school board and community and second, it challenges the existing school organization structure. The challenge means that the Hispanic female superintendent conceptualizes her role and actions in fulfilling organizational ends with particular emphasis on uniformity and equity.

This chapter is a comparison of two Hispanic female superintendents’ use of executive and political responsibility. The report is based on two separate studies that yielded many interesting and useful theoretical points that are addressed elsewhere (Ortiz 1991, Ortiz and Ortiz 1992). The present report is limited to a discussion about executive and political responsibility at the superintendency level as enacted by Hispanic females. As has been reported in the literature, (Blumberg and Blumberg 1985, 1991, Boyd 1974, Burlingame 1981, Hess 1977) superintendents’ relationships with their school boards and communities are very often political. The two Hispanic female superintendents who are being examined here struggle to maintain an executive relationship while social, community and organizational forces impose political stress. The objective of this report is to display the distinction between executive and political responsibility, to examine how that distinction is related to gender and ethnicity, to demonstrate how Hispanic females maintain the distinction, and finally to show the process by which executive actions are challenged and politicized.

The reason that it is important to make these distinctions is because unlike the appointment of white males to the superintendency, the appointment of Hispanic females has symbolic and political overtones. However, as shall be seen, the superintendent’s executive legitimacy is not granted for fulfilling the symbolic function or special group interests, but for adhering to the tenets of traditional executive action, that is, providing procedural order and resource allocation.

The dramatic demographic changes taking place in us society are being mirrored in our public schools. Minority students representing diverse groups are outnumbering the white students. However, the public school hierarchy remains predominantly white. Diversity is more common in the support services, but rare in the school boards and administrative ranks. Thus, the position of the superintendent is affected in two major ways when it is assumed by a Hispanic female. First, it serves as a symbol for the school board and community and second, it challenges the existing school organization structure.


The superintendents

School superintendents obtain their positions through sponsorship. They normally come to the job with extensive experience and organizational support. Most superintendents

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