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Open Access Publications from the University of California

An Autoethnography of a First-Time School District Superintendent: Experiences in Governance, Fiscal Stress, and Community Relations

  • Author(s): Rose, III, Stanley
  • Advisor(s): Gifford, Bernard R.
  • et al.

There are just over 1,000 sitting superintendents and like number of local educational agencies (LEA's) in California, serving 6.2 million students. Superintendents' ability to share knowledge and learn from each other is limited; this is especially true the further one's work is removed from concentrated urban populations. This study addresses the following question: As a first-time district superintendent, what roadblocks stand in the way of effectively leading the district? To consider the question, this inquiry interprets a representative sample of my experiences as a first-time superintendent over the past five years during a period characterized by constant fiscal stress, organizational uncertainty, and shifting demographic populations. The theoretical basis from which this inquiry draws includes three streams of qualitative research (a) autoethnography, (b) organizational sensemaking, sensegiving, and decision-making, and (c) Critical Race Theory. Using the emerging field of autoethnography to interpret selected experiences in a design study that makes sense of them, I hope to help other superintendents, and those interested in decision-making for schools and districts, to set a better course by measured, sense-making reflections of their own experiences. Similar to conventional ethnography, auto-ethnographic methods require the researcher to systemically gather and sort data, to express such data in a manner that follows the conventions of the field, and to present and interpret findings in a manner acceptable by the field's official journals and research publications.

To apply a clearer lens to the question, I apply the theoretical perspectives of Critical Race Theory (CRT), its Latin derivative Latino Critical Race Theory (LatCRIT), and organizational sensemaking, sensegiving, and decision-making to inform my observations. I apply selected experiences to the narrative theme identified as board and administrative leadership relationships.

The findings and conclusions drawn from this research are designed to offer additional understandings to first-time superintendents who serve in relatively small districts with rapidly changing demographics, specifically where growing populations of Latino students, with socio-economic, cultural, and linguistic challenges, require new service models and interventions. Even given the limitations and shortfalls of this methodology, there is sufficient acceptance of autoethnography as a qualitative device from which valuable conclusions and findings can be drawn. This research has the potential to raise other questions around effective leadership and governance for future researchers to consider. Perhaps the most important product of this study will be to support an end to the isolation superintendents feel, particularly those first-time superintendents who serve outside urban areas, far from the highway of shared, face-to-face experiences communicated by urban superintendents.

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