Leadership Characteristics of the Ideal School Superintendent

Leadership Characteristics of the Ideal School Superintendent

Ernest W. Brewer (University of Tennessee, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0062-1.ch004
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This chapter discusses the characteristics of the ideal school superintendent based on research findings. Research has seen that the challenges to American education have become more complex with the advent of each decade of this century. The effective school superintendent of today and tomorrow must be a principled, empathetic visionary who is able to lead by facilitating and to actively encourage the development of others. While inferences may be made from the efforts of apparently successful superintendents, research is needed to scientifically validate excellence and to differentiate between superficially apparent success and long-term effectiveness.
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Leadership Characteristics of the Ideal School Superintendent

Like CEOs in large business organizations, school superintendents are hired to efficiently and effectively operate the systems in their charge. Likewise, a superintendent is expected to demonstrate characteristics of effective leadership (Berg & Barnett, 1999; Brewer & Marmon, 2000; Carifio & Hess, 1987; Hoyle, 1989; Morton, 1990). Reporting directly to the school board, the superintendent is primarily responsible for the operation of the administrative staff, the compilation and execution of budgets, and the maintenance of communication facilities (Smith, 1982). The superintendent is also responsible for implementing the school board’s policies. Although these responsibilities are managerial, superintendents play a significant role in formulating district policy. Using their professional expertise and resources, effective superintendents can provide school boards with accurate analyses of problems and can lead boards in making thoughtful, informed decisions. Above all, the superintendent should be an educational leader (Kirby, Paradise, & King, 1992; Klauke, 1988).

Effective educational leadership is most clearly needed when politics enter into the superintendent-board relationship. Analyzing this relationship, Salmon (1992) sketched four types of boards and discussed typical situations in which superintendents might become entangled. The two most common types, sanctioning boards and factionated boards, are discussed below.

A sanctioning board thoroughly reflects the values of a homogeneous community. Consequently, a strong sense of trust between the superintendent and board members develops. Such boards function primarily as their superintendent’s interpreters to the community, explaining and defending their joint decisions.

A factionated board is made up of individuals who hold strong and conflicting perspectives on such major controversial issues as busing, taxes, and the nature of basic education. These members reflect their community’s divergent views, thus making effective leadership even more important. Salmon (1992) pointed out that the increasing complexity of education and the evolving nature of modern America’s pluralistic society has led to a decrease in the number of sanctioning boards and a rise in the number of factionated boards. To deal effectively with a factionated board, the superintendent must develop strong personal qualities and communication skills (MacCoby, 1990).

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