Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Educational Administration

Major Professor

Vincent A. Anfara, Jr.

Committee Members

Norma T. Mertz. Gary C. Ubben, Diane Moyer


The school superintendency is the most gender stratified executive position in the United States, with men 20 times more likely than women to advance from the level of teacher to the top leadership role in a school district (Skrla, 1999). Although the majority of teachers in public schools are women, the majority of superintendents are men (Bell & Chase, 1993; Blount, 1998; Brunner, 1999; Grogan, 1996; Mertz, 1991; Shakeshaft, 1989; Skrla, 1999; Young, 1999). Though women have made slight progress in moving into superintendent positions during the past few years, there is still a disproportionate under representation of females nationwide in these top-level positions (Bell & Chase, 1993; Grogan, 1999; Shakeshaft, 1989).

Of the 136 school systems in 2003 in the state of Tennessee, 19 systems were led by women (Tennessee State Department of Education, 2004). The purpose of this study was to examine what barriers to the superintendency exist and how some females in the state of Tennessee have overcome these obstacles in achieving the position of superintendent of school systems. This phenomenon was investigated using the theory of “Gatekeeping” (Lewin, 1947, 1951; Shoemaker, 1991) as a theoretical framework and focused on the 19 female superintendents in the state of Tennessee. Furthermore, this qualitative study utilized a multiple case study design, with questionnaires, interviews, and field notes as sources of data.

When investigating the barriers that women face, the findings included: a lack of aspiration and motivation; personal beliefs, attitudes and self-image; gender discrimination; and family responsibilities and expectations. When researching how barriers were overcome, the findings included: experience and education; sponsorship and mentors; preparation; family support; leadership style; right fit; and personal characteristics.

There were two major conclusions from this study of perceived barriers and how women overcome these barriers associated with seeking a superintendent position. First, it appears that women continue to faces barriers in reaching the level of superintendency. Second, mentors and supporters appear to make a difference for women in successfully reaching the level of superintendent.

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