Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Department or School

Leadership and Counseling

Committee Member

Dr. Barbara Bleyaert, Chairperson

Committee Member

Dr. Gary Marx

Committee Member

Dr. Diane Parfitt

Committee Member

Dr. Michael Stearns


The purpose of this research was to describe the experiences of six women superintendents who began their careers as elementary principals. The central question was: What can we learn from the lived experience of women who came from a background as elementary educators and advanced to the superintendency in a variety of district contexts within Michigan’s traditional public school system?

The research design was a qualitative, interpretive, multiple case study approach using the data collection method of interviewing. Two conceptual frameworks – expectations states theory and feminist poststructuralism – provided the context for this research. Portraits of each of the six participants were shared to provide detailed descriptions.

Four emergent themes common across all six participants were revealed. Those findings were: 1. All subjects got initiated to the idea of obtaining administrative positions through an external event and/or person of influence who instilled in them a belief about their potential as an administrator; 2. Most considered their elementary backgrounds as an advantage to their beliefs and strengths as a leader, which developed into understanding how the K-12 system works for students; 3. All participants raised the issue of the challenge of relating to secondary teachers - the steep learning curve around scheduling and staffing and also learning about a secondary climate and culture – as needed to be successful as superintendents coming from an elementary background; 4. In seeking or accepting a superintendency, there was a significant draw to a home district or region with family ties. In addition to these common themes, it was found that the timing of a woman’s decision to apply for a superintendent position was dependent on certain variables lining up at the right moment. There was also a strong appreciation and desire for mentorship for women as they decide to enter administration and move along their career paths.

Several recommendations resulted from the findings of this study, including ones for women aspirants to the superintendency, university preparation programs, and search firm consultants and school board members. These recommendations addressed the need to purposively study women’s issues in leadership to further understand how women make decisions about their career paths.