Challenges of the Public School Superintendency: Differences by Tenure and District Location

By Trevino, Daniel, Jr.; Braley, Richard T. et al. | Florida Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Challenges of the Public School Superintendency: Differences by Tenure and District Location


Trevino, Daniel, Jr., Braley, Richard T., Brown, Michelle Stallone, Slate, John R., Florida Journal of Educational Administration and Policy


In this study, the researchers examined current challenges faced by 46 public school superintendents in South Texas. Challenges faced by these superintendents which were investigated in this study were: political obstacles/governance; high stakes testing; curriculum and instruction; funding; student socioeconomic status; student demographics; personnel ethics; a lack of highly-qualified teachers and paraprofessionals; a lack of educational diversity; and, student discipline. Through a survey completed by 46 public school superintendents in South Texas, statistically significant relationships were found between superintendent tenure and concerns about these challenges. Statistically significant differences were present in superintendents' views about these challenges as a function of school district location. Implications of these findings are discussed.

Keywords: Superintendents; Organizational, Economic, Personnel, and Student Challenges

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The last quarter of the 20th century saw many efforts to rethink and improve education for America's children. Numerous efforts to improve and reform public schools have occurred. These efforts have ranged from new state standards for student achievement to high-stakes testing and charter school legislation. One important dimension, however, has largely been overlooked: school district leadership, governance, and teamwork (Goodman and Zimmerman, 2000).

Horine and Bass stated that "as organizational leaders struggle to lead their organizations to become higher performing, quality organizations, there is an increasing recognition that a new leadership paradigm is needed to successfully develop and sustain a motivated and committed workforce." (Leithwood & Steinbach, 1993, p. 1) Bennis and Nanus (1985) noted the critical need for leaders to respond to change and the challenges that change entails. Leaders need to have what it takes to stay in the game. To survive the challenges, leaders, not managers, are crucial to the success of education in the 21st century (Shelton, 1997). Moreover, educational leaders need to be responsive proactively to mandates that require substantial changes in schools and schooling such as the No Child Left Behind Act (Linn, Baker, and Betebenner, 2002).

Unfortunately, in our view, public school superintendents continue to live in a culture that is based upon conflict, insecurity and uncertainty (Allison, 1988). We contend that superintendency turnover is, in large part, due to the challenges in the position. Key positions such as the superintendency need longer tenures so that long term, positive influences occur. Dr. Donald Drayer, superintendent of Minnetonka Public Schools in Minnesota succinctly asserted:

   One of my greatest apprehensions about the future of the
   superintendency is the short tenure in a key position. Important
   and needed organizational change occurs over many years. Leadership
   that is in a constant state of flux can rarely bring about
   effective change which truly impacts student learning. (Carter and
   Cunningham, 1997, p. xvii)

Schools in the 20th century were slow to respond to changes in school organization from the bureaucratic model that was developed in the early 1900s. That has continued to be the predominant structure of school systems into the early years of the current century as well. Schools were being led and are continuing to be led from the top down, and interactions with employees were then and continue to be carried out in a traditional autocratic manner (Bass and Avilio, 1994; Leithwood, 1994; Senge, 1990). The 21st century, however, has brought additional challenges to the field of public educational leadership. Examples of such challenges include the No Child Left Behind Act and its mandates for student testing, adequate yearly progress, and school accountability (Linn et al., 2002). In addition, for some states, substantial increases in immigration and in minority students have occurred. …

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