A school district's search for a new superintendent

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Teaching and Leadership


Marilyn Tallerico


Hiring, School district, Superintendent

Subject Categories

Educational Administration and Supervision


Superintendents are key educational leaders of local school districts. The hiring of these leaders is considered one of the most important tasks a school board undertakes. The purpose of this study was to explore the process one school district employed in its search for and selection of a new superintendent.

The research design was a single site case study using qualitative methods. A principal means of data collection was participant observation: I "shadowed" a search consultant as he assisted the Northtown, New York school board in hiring its new superintendent. Other data collection techniques included document analysis and open-ended interviews of key informants. Data analysis was conducted using constant comparative methods. The data were triangulated and three themes emerged: the search process and selection criteria, gatekeeping, and confidentiality and privacy.

In Northtown, it was evident that, while professional credentials were important in the initial stages of the search, personal attributes proved critical in the eventual "match" of candidate to school district. The "human connection" was a strong determinant of a candidate's success or failure in advancing in the search process.

The hired search consultant acted as gatekeeper of the process, its people, and all pertinent information. He exerted his power through influence in recruiting predominantly white, married males, initially screening applications, allowing access of some applicants to candidate status, sponsoring a "select six" candidates in the first round of interviews, and filtering information throughout the process. The gatekeeper's activities controlled the search in the Northtown Central School District.

The struggle between a candidate's privacy and the public's right to know became a central focus in this case. As the eventual successful candidate progressed through the process, allegations of personal improprieties fueled the local rumor mill. Although his professional credentials were impressive, the scrutiny of his private life was intense. The school board offered him the superintendency only after he voluntarily disclosed his personal past. In effect, both candidate and board circumvented the laws protecting personal privacy in employment practices.

I conclude that candidates in Northtown progressed because of their likable, identifiable human qualities. Additionally, this hired search consultant exerted power through influence in the selection of a new superintendent. And finally, personal disclosures sometimes helped secure advancement in one's chosen career. The search for a new Northtown superintendent was people-centered in every convoluted layer of the process.


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