The role of a school Superintendent is constantly changing and now encompasses more roles and responsibilities than it did before. The average tenure of superintendents in American K-12 public school systems is around 3 years, with the number being even lower for superintendents serving in large urban school districts. While states continue to revamp superintendent preparation programs, many of the skills and traits needed to successfully address the transition to a superintendency still remain unaddressed. Therefore, this study evaluated the lived experiences of five superintendents transitioning to their first superintendency. They documented challenges and successes during their first semester through interviews and reflective journals to research the challenges and success of transitioning to a first superintendency. Additionally, this study identified traits that were used, developed, or acquired by first semester superintendents to overcome specific challenges presented during the tyro transition.
This qualitative study combined an autoethnography and narrative inquiry research design to demonstrate the experiences of first-time school superintendents during their first semester in the position. This study built upon my personal experiences as a school district superintendent. My lived experiences were recorded weekly in a journal as one of the primary sources of data for this study. Additionally, a narrative inquiry research design was used to capture data from four other first-semester superintendents. Four other superintendents, also in their first semester in the role, were asked to capture their experiences via a weekly journal that was shared with researcher. At the end of their first month and first semester, the researcher conducted virtual interviews with each Superintendent to capture additional data. The data was then coded into emerging themes for research. Member-checking was utilized to ensure accuracy and validity of the presented information. To adhere to the ethics of social science research, fictitious names and pseudonyms for all respondents and institutions to ensure anonymity were used.
The findings revealed that lived experience challenges of superintendents during their tyro transition include board-superintendent relations, change management, and personnel issues. Successes during the tyro transition identified by participants in the study include building relationships with cabinet members, implementing systems throughout the organization, and developing trust amongst staff. The participants also identified the following traits necessary to be utilized or developed to overcome the challenges of the tyro transition: oral/written communication, general problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills, honesty/integrity, and decision making. This study provides research to support superintendents during their first semester, improve superintendent training and preparation programs, and key leadership traits that can be used in superintendent selection processes.