Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Department of Educational Administration and Foundations: Educational Administration

First Advisor

Beth Hatt


This study examined ‘exceptional’ superintendent leadership in ethnically and economically diverse school districts. The purpose of the study was to use comparative case studies to better understand the beliefs and strategies these proven leaders employ to positively impact achievement and close the opportunity gap for students in ethnically and economically diverse school districts. The study examined three superintendents from the state of Illinois with respect to their philosophy, identified district strengths, culturally responsive attitudes and actions, leadership style, core beliefs, direct impact on students, and decision-making process to identify commonalities and differences that exist.

Culturally responsive leadership was the theoretical lens for this study. The research questions reflected this framework and provided a focus for the study. Evidence was collected through individual interviews with each superintendent and members of his or her administrative team and by collecting and examining observation data and artifacts. After collecting and analyzing the data, patterns, and themes were identified and analyzed to develop superintendent portraits. These portraits illuminated the characteristics of exceptional superintendents, including: (a) The Superintendent Recognizes Culture as Paramount to Effective Instruction; (b) The Superintendent Has a Deep Understanding of What Quality Instruction Looks Like; (c) The Superintendent Effectively Engages the Community; (d) The Superintendent Hires Educators Who Believe Culture and Language is Essential to Learning; (e) The Superintendent Articulates a Vision that Denies Deficit-Thinking; (f) The Superintendent Innovates to Ensure Equity and Excellence for Every Child.

One essential theme was identified much more frequently in the context of serving in ethnically and economically diverse school districts. The theme was that of the Superintendent as a Culturally Responsive Leader. This characteristic was identified in the leadership of all three identified superintendents.

The findings from this study generated recommendations for practicing administrators, academic research, superintendent preparation programs and policy that may have significant implications for schools that are working to close the opportunity gap in a similar context. Specifically, these recommendations should focus on the identified Characteristics of Exceptional Superintendents with an emphasis on culturally responsive leadership. Recommendations for future research include additional studies on: exceptional superintendents serving in other geographical regions, the impact of culturally responsive leadership at the district-level, and the impact of school boards hiring from within the community.


Imported from ProQuest Henkle_ilstu_0092E_10932.pdf


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