Perspectives from long-tenured superintendents of color: enablers and inhibitors of superintendent longevity



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Superintendent longevity contributes to organizational success, while superintendent turnover creates academic instability and organizational dysfunction. Yet superintendent longevity continues to be a worrisome issue in education. The current turnover rate of superintendencies ranges from 14% to 20% annually, and superintendent tenure in districts with the highest percentage of low-income students is 3.5 years shorter than in districts with the lowest poverty levels. The concern becomes urgent when considering the direct correlation between superintendent longevity and district effectiveness. In contrast, frequent superintendent turnover has been linked to unsustainable district improvement efforts and less overall growth. Adding to the concern is the demographic imbalance between superintendents and the students they serve, with the low representation of people of color in superintendencies remaining problematic. Superintendents today are expected to function as agents of change who address head-on the increased state and federal accountability pressures, and who strive to level the field and yield excellent and equitable educational outcomes for all students. These transformative outcomes require innovative solutions, continuity of vision, and systemic reform resulting from sustained and focused leadership. This study sought to document how long-tenured superintendents of color in Texas perceived the enablers and inhibitors to their longevity and the strategies they deployed to remain in the role. By adopting a qualitative research design to examine the perspectives of 12 long-tenured superintendents of color regarding their lived experiences in the superintendency, the study aimed to represent and uplift the voices and experiences of those typically underrepresented in research. The findings revealed three enabling factors of superintendent longevity for which it is possible to articulate a subset of strategies deployed by participants to sustain their longevity in the role. The three enablers identified were 1) purpose-driven leadership, 2) a healthy relationship with the school board, and 3) establishing trust as a leader. Finally, the study provides recommendations to current and aspiring superintendents, school boards, and superintendent preparation programs in the hope it can enhance the design of more efficacious supports to help retain superintendents and provide concrete strategies to sustain their longevity in the superintendency.


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