Title page for ETD etd-05082009-155311

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Thornton, Michael E
URN etd-05082009-155311
Title A Comparative Study of Superintendent Leadership Characteristics of Virginia School Superintendents
Degree PhD
Department Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Twiford, Travis W. Committee Chair
Cash, Carol S. Committee Member
Smith, Jeffrey O. Committee Member
Tripp, Norman Wayne Committee Member
  • superintendent
  • leadership
  • characteristics
Date of Defense 2009-05-06
Availability restricted

The position of public school superintendent is one that is filled with many challenges and opportunities. A more in depth awareness of the leadership characteristics of public school superintendents enhance the understanding of this very complex role in today’s society. The purpose of this study was to identify leadership characteristics of school superintendents in today’s complex education environment as perceived by school superintendents and school board chairpersons in Virginia. Additionally, this study gathered and evaluated perspectives from practicing superintendents and their board chairpersons to determine similarities and differences between the perceptions of these two groups.

The population selected for this study was comprised of all 132 K-12 public school superintendents in the Commonwealth of Virginia during the 2008-2009 school year. Additionally, all 132 Virginia school board chairpersons were invited to participate in the survey. A total of 101 responses were received from the survey population of Virginia school superintendents. This represents an overall survey return rate of 76.52%. A total of 70 responses were received from the survey population of Virginia school board chairpersons, representing a return rate of 53.03%.

The respondents were asked to read 17 statements regarding the activities and characteristics related to the job of superintendent and answer from 1 to 4, strongly disagree to strongly agree. In addition, respondents were asked to rank in order of importance ten superintendent leadership characteristics, with the value of 1 corresponding to the most important characteristic. The perceived ratings were then rank-ordered based upon the composite mean of the ratings of each individual leadership characteristics.

Superintendents and school board chairpersons agreed that personal and professional integrity, honesty, and fairness are the most essential leadership characteristics for the public school superintendent. Superintendents and school board chairpersons also agreed that effective communication with board members, division and school staffs, parents, students, and the community is essential in superintendent leadership.

Both superintendents and school board chairpersons perceived visionary leader as the most important leadership characteristic, relative to all the characteristics rated. Superintendents indicated that instructional leader was the second most important characteristic, while school board chairpersons perceived this characteristic as the third most important. Superintendents rated effective school board relations as the third most important characteristic, while school board chairpersons ranked this as their fourth most important characteristic.

Statistically significant differences in the perceptions of superintendents and school board chairpersons were observed for the following characteristics: professional development experience, politically astute, and team builder. Superintendents perceived professional development experience to be significantly less important than did school board chairpersons. The superintendents perceived politically astute to be significantly more important characteristic than the school board chairpersons. Finally, school board chairpersons considered the characteristic of team builder to be significantly more important than superintendents.

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