How School District Superintendents’ Perceive Effected Curricular Or Instructional Change

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1.0. Introduction. 1

2.0. Statement of the Study Purpose and Research Questions. 3

3.0. Study Method and Procedures. 4

3.1. Sampling and Data Collection. 4

3.2. Data Analysis. 6

3.3. Study Limitations. 6

4.0. Review of Previous Studies. 7

4.1. Introduction. 7

4.2. Superintendents as Managers. 7

4.3. Superintendents as Communicators. 9

4.4. Superintendents as Judges. 11

4.5. Superintendents as Teachers and as Students. 12

5.0. Significance of the Study. 14

References. 15


1.0. Introduction

For many decades school district leadership has been the focus of a vast body of research work (Bredeson & Kose, 2007; Cuban & Usdan, 2003; Klatt, 1996). Perhaps this phenomenon has been occasioned by the urge among educators and policymakers to establish what these leaders can do to foster changes in school districts or reform aspects of educational programming. Analytically, these studies have advanced a lot of information regarding school superintendents as change agents. Precisely, it has been established that superintendents employ a wide range of strategies to execute their mandate and most importantly, to successfully mitigate the “nearly continuous turbulent … [bureaucratic, unpredictable and] inescapable” environment which they work in (Begley, 2004; Kowalski, 200; Portis & Garcia, 2007; Starratt, 2004, p.29). In this regard, it is only fair to assert that change cannot be achieved without first overhauling these complex work environments.

School superintendents have changed over the years from the mere instructional leaders they used to be to the multitasked administrators who operate in complex and ever dynamic socio-political and cultural environments engulfing school districts (Alsbury, & Shaw, 2005; Canales, Tajeda-Delgado, & Slate, 2008; Portis & Garcia, 2007). It is conventionally acknowledged that school district superintendents are the persons at the pivotal position for implementing any form of school reforms (Alsbury & Shaw, 2005; Babb, 2008; Barnett, 2004; Murphy, 1994). Tellingly, many studies concur that superintendents assume leadership roles in their respective districts (Carter & Cunningham, 1997; Reeves, 2002; Thomas & Moran, 1992; Waters & Marzano, 2007). As leaders they are responsible for the day-to-day implementation of all policy matters as directed by local, state, and federal educational requirements (Reeves, 2002). Similar sentiments are shared by Katz and Khan (1978) and by Kowalski (2000) that school leadership and management are complex processes that require maximum dedication from the superintendents particularly in initiating and implementing change.

Interestingly, existing research work that attempts to address these processes does not sufficiently explain how some of the critical facets of leadership and management take place. Few attempts have been made to demonstrate in operational terms how school superintendents effect change, with extant research only advancing the various roles played by school superintendents as change agents.

Moreover, though some existing studies provide frameworks within which superintendents operate, it is only wise to assert that the highly dynamic education sector have rendered some of them irrelevant. Changes that have engulfed contemporary education sector have brought about discrepancies between what some existing studies advance and the actual happenings in educational leadership at the local levels particularly in regard to what superintendents should do to enhance academic excellence within their districts.  For instance, it is obvious that the varied socio-economic and political structures occasioned by hard economic times, diversionary politics, ethnic diversity make it very hard for school superintendents to embrace or impart change in their respective school districts in equal measures.

It is very unfortunate that there is no existing empirical evidence detailing how school district superintendents go about imparting change at a time when the educational sector just like many other sectors, is going through a period of rapid restructuring courtesy of the mounting pressure from educational stakeholders. As such, there is need for carrying out a focused and impartial research work to investigate how these administrative officers effect change in their respective school districts.

2.0. Statement of the Study Purpose and Research Questions

The purpose of this study is to examine how selected school district superintendents’ perceive how they have effected curricular or instructional change. Employing interviews with superintendents who oversee multi-building districts and who have held their positions for five or more years, the study will be guided by the following two research questions:

  • What strategies have superintendents used to effect curricular or instructional change in their districts?
  • What strategies do school district superintendents apply in handling pressure from stakeholders while still delivering their mandate?

Essentially, going by the increasingly dynamic socio-political and cultural trends in the education sector occasioned by the desire to harmonize educational goals with the contemporary economic, political and social indicators, the technological advancements as well as the advent of globalization these noble aims are justified. For instance, it has been argued that the school district superintendents work under intense pressure in bringing about dramatic improvements in student test scores while simultaneously meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse and multicultural student population.

On the other hand, based on the conventional wisdom that superintendents have successfully impacted in some critical areas of their overall mandate (Hentschke, Nayfack, & Wohlstetter, 2009), there is need to critically investigate how they succeed in doing this despite operating from potentially conflicting environments. Apart from seeking to establish how school district superintendents impart change, this research study will also seek to lay bare some of their strong and weak areas insofar as educational leadership is concerned. Perhaps the strongest part of this study is that its findings will advice policy formulation and implementation particularly in the areas of improving smooth coexistence between all educational stakeholders at the federal, state, and local levels.

3.0. Study Method and Procedures

This study will examine how school superintendents go about imparting change. Employing an exploratory, qualitative research methodology will be the most appropriate given its capacity to identify the superintendents’ perceptions of how they effect change.  Creswell’s (2003) postulations concerning interviews and case studies suggest that a qualitative approach offers the best option for examining these perceptions.

3.1. Sampling and Data Collection

The study population will be practicing school superintendents within a 100-mile radius of the researcher’s residence in Moline, Illinois. Only a small fraction of this population will be considered for the study. Ten superintendents will be selected. This is in accordance with Ader, Mellenbergh, and Hand (2008), who postulate that a study sample should enhance easy data collection. To ensure that this is achieved, the superintendents will be selected on the basis of their experience in the field of education leadership – superintendents who oversee multi-building districts and who have held their positions for five or more years. Given the small size of the study sample there will be no coercion for participation – school superintendents will be approached and their consent for participation sought.

To identify the suitable potential participants the researcher will consult the state of Illinois public schools records. From there the researcher will be extract personal contacts for superintendents fitting the selection criteria. Letters seeking the consent for participation will be sent to these superintendents through the post office. A response form and a postage paid envelope will accompany those letters. The superintendents will be given a two-week period to return the consent forms. Follow-up emails and phone calls will be used for those who do not return the envelope within the provided timeframe.

The responses will be studied with view of identifying superintendents willing to take part in the study and those who are not. The names of those who will be willing will be listed down alphabetically and numbered from 1 to say, 100. Using a random number generator, the researcher will select 10 numbers from the alphabetically listed names. The study participants will be picked based on these 10 random numbers (Bartlett, Kotrlik, & Higgins, 2001).

To enhance confidentiality the selected superintendents’ will be assured that their personal information will not be revealed – only information relevant to the research problem will be collected from the participants. Moreover, so as to enhance participation the superintendents will be assured that the study will only rely on the information that they will be willing to divulge.

The study will use interviews as its only data collection instrument. So as to capture as many data as possible, the interviews will be structured according to the questioning techniques offered by Creswell (2003) and Kvale and Britmann (2008) – both open and closed questions will be used. The interviews will cover both professional as well as personal skills that superintendents utilize in executing their mandate. Moreover, so as to enhance depth of information, some interview questions will include mini-questions (follow-up questions). Such follow-up questions will be structured in a friendly manner so as to enhance the propensity for eliciting correct answers.

The structured physical interviews will be conducted in venues convenient with the busy superintendents’ daily schedules. To some extent, telephone and online interviews may be used particularly for those participants with busy schedules or who may be travelling during the study period (Creswell, 2003). Data collected from these interviews will be studied, transcribed, coded and analyzed (Maxfield & Babbie, 1995).

3.2. Data Analysis

Due to the intensive nature of the proposed research problem, data collected through the structured interviews and questionnaires will be analyzed using a continuous method (memoing) (Birks, Chapman, & Francis, 2008). First, data from the structured interviews and questionnaires will be subjected to a purposive scrutiny to check accuracy. Then it will be closely studied and all important information (main points) in regards to the research problem will be jotted down in a memo in form of short notes. These short notes will be transcribed for easy analysis using qualitative data analysis method. The transcribed data will then be subjected to further scrutiny and coded into meaningful units for easy analysis (Maxfield & Babbie, 1995). For instance, likely codes in the study may include: conflict solving, communication, mentoring, coercion, in-servicing, role modeling, etc.

3.3. Study Limitations

Very minimal limitations are anticipated in this study. This is courtesy of the sampling methods (voluntary and random) as well as the relatively large study area (100-mile radius). For instance, the carefully conducted sampling procedure will ensure that study participants do not withdraw from the study until the research is completed.

Even so, given that the study will depend on interviews as the only data collection tool it is feared that some participants may be tempted to give untrue information. Determining the authenticity of some information gathered in the interview will be a relatively challenging endeavour. In this regard, the researcher will only rely on the good will and honesty of the participants in analyzing and drawing inferences from the data collected.

4.0. Review of Previous Studies

4.1. Introduction

Conventional wisdom regarding the nature and scope of many social systems holds that, meaningful change cannot be achieved on a silver platter (Schein, 1985). Administrators, managers, leaders, as well as their followers need to tirelessly work for it, perhaps by initiating and following through change-inducing interventional measures compatible with their respective areas of jurisdiction (Robbins, 2003). In the case of school systems at the district level for instance, it has been advanced that meaningful change cannot be achieved without first overhauling the existing organizational structures to complete overhaul (Baumman, 1996; Fullan, 1996; Hess, 1998; Kowalski, 2000; Kowalski, 2001). Precisely, policymakers have singled out school culture as the most pertinent area that needs to be addressed for change to be fully realized (Baumman, 1996; Fullan, 1996).

This chapter provides a comprehensive review of the existing literature of school district superintendents as agents of change. So as to bring out the ideas clearly the review is arranged into the following sub-headings that denote the salient roles that school superintendents play as they go about imparting change:

  • Superintends as managers
  • Superintends as communicators
  • Superintends as judges
  • Superintendents as teachers and as students

4.2. Superintendents as Managers

Reforms that have engulfed the educational systems in various states and local school districts over the last decade have greatly changed the roles of superintendents. As a matter of fact, contemporary educational systems are characterized by accountability and transparency in matters of school management and classroom instructions (Bjork, Kowalski, & Browne-Ferrigno, 2005). Consequently, superintendents today act as accounting officers, professional educators, curriculum developers, instructors, and evaluators (Bredeson & Kose, 2007; Babb, 2006). Precisely, Carter and Cunningham (1997) assert that just like conventional management officers in other social sectors, superintendents offer professional and technical advisory services that revolve around good resource management practices. On his part Weiss (2003) adds that as managers school superintendents successfully meet state and federal academic requirements by indulging in a gamut of strategies, which in this case comprise the sum total of all efforts geared toward improving students’ academic performance.

Moreover, due to the inherent “crossroads” atmosphere within the realm of educational leadership, superintendents’ roles have evolved over the years (Myers, 2010). Thomas and Moran (1992) for instance assert that, superintendents are managers just like other conventional managers who “manage great business or industrial enterprise” (p. 42). Myers (2010) asserts that if they are to effectively fulfill these changing roles, superintendents should be professionals and not employees. Precisely, it has been noted that they succeed in inducing change within their respective school districts by practicing sound planning and time management skills (Hanglund, 2009; Myers, 2010; Reeves, 2002). Thomas and Moran (1992) describes superintendents as, “planners and thinkers” of policy changes (p.42). In extension, Reeves (2002) argues that superintendents achieve desired goals and objectives by acting as “the bridge[s] from chaos to clarity for every stakeholder so that students, teachers, parents, leaders, and the broad community know what success really means” (p. 77). Precisely, the management role of policy implementation has been noted among superintendents particularly as they struggle to make key decisions, coordinate students’ evaluation, and deliver measurable academic results as per the requirements of various legislative enactments such as the popular No Child Left Behind of 2001(Haglund, 2009).

4.3. Superintendents as Communicators

Waters and Marzano (2006) further elucidate that in order to successfully get other educational stakeholders to take active roles in change drives at the school district level superintendents employ good communication tactics that help to create new and sustainable relations with their subordinates.  Similar sentiments are echoed by Carter and Cunningham (1997) when he asserts that superintendents overcome the highly unpredictable stakeholders’ demands by acting as “the communicator[s] to the public” (p.24).

Davis, Darling-Hammond, La Pointe and Meyerson (2005) argue that the demands made on contemporary education systems are enormous. There is more accountability on the part of a school superintendent’s job than it has ever been witnessed before. In reference to the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act for instance, the superintendents are expected to deliver convincing results or else risk their districts forfeiting important funds from the federal government. In a bid to avoid such financial forfeiture the superintendents explore all ways of getting those under them to carry out their duties fully. Based on the findings of a research study commissioned by the Wallace Foundation and carried out by researchers from the Stanford Educational Leadership Institute, school leaders have been noted to employ a range of methods in effecting desired change. Among these methods is the conscious effort made to improve student academic performance through “the support and development of effective teachers and the implementa­tion of effective organizational processes … prepara­tion and licensing requirements, which generally subscribe to a set of common expectations for the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of school leaders” (p.5).

These arguments are also galvanized by the findings of a survey conducted among nine Manitoba, Canada superintendents where it was revealed that superintendents acknowledged their responsibilities as communicators of new knowledge among the various school heads within their school districts (Wallin & Crippan, 2007). Similar sentiments are shared by Waters and Marzano (2006) when they argued that as competent communicators, superintendents directly coordinate local stakeholders in the overall implementation within their respective school districts of requirements imposed by federal funding agencies.

In connection to this, studies concurringly echo that as part of their efforts to fulfill their mandate, school superintendents assume active leadership roles (Carter & Cunningham, 1997; Reeves, 2002; Thomas & Moran, 1992; Waters & Marzano, 2006). As leaders, they are responsible for the day-to-day implementation of all policy matters as directed by the local, state, and federal educational requirements (Reeves, 2002). Analytically, they earn the leadership status by making timely and bidirectional communications between those at the helm of education management and their local levels counterparts.

Superintendents manage change processes within their areas of oper.............

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