The lived experiences of Black female superintendents : a transformative phenomenological study undergirded by Black feminist thought




Washington, Tracie R.

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This transformative phenomenological study involved exploring how Black females serving as superintendents in the United States experienced the journey into their roles, the state of the school districts as they began their roles, and their lived experiences as superintendents. I used Black feminist thought as part of answering the following research questions: (a) How do Black female superintendents describe their personal and professional lived experiences while ascending to the position of school district superintendent? (b) How do Black females appointed to the role of school district superintendent describe their lived experiences with leading a school district? Black feminist thought is an evolution of standpoint theory, which challenges the exclusivity and chauvinism of the dominant culture. This study followed a phenomenological approach, the primary method involved conducting semi-structured interviews. This study was comprised of 11 Black female superintendents across the United States who participated in one-on-one Zoom-based interviews. This transformative phenomenological study captured the lived experience of the Black female superintendents that have successfully navigated the prevailing phenomena of glass ceiling, glass cliff, and gatekeeping provided a platform for aspiring Black female superintendents to glean from their predecessors’ experiences. The 11 participants’ responses to questions in their individual interviews revealed the following five themes that answered the first research as (a) preparation, (b) exceptionalism, (c) sponsorship, (d) spirituality, and (e) need to check every box. The five themes that emerged for answering the second research question and describing the 11 Black women’s superintendent experiences were (a) diverse school boards, (b) turnaround school districts, (c) equity warriors, (d) sacrifice, and (e) support system. The participants disclosed that the discriminatory practice that remains evident in the role as superintendent is the gender role expectations that continues to drive Black female superintendents from the profession. The participants were hopeful that their leadership could change American public education for the better as they promoted educational excellence among all students. Thus, the participants’ rich narratives led to implications for policy and practice as well as opportunities for further investigation.


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