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Exploratory case study of the power problem of the superintendency

Claire Louise Sheff Kohn, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The purpose of this study was to examine the experiences and perceptions of four Massachusetts public school superintendents about the use of power. The major goals of the study were to profile and compare four practicing superintendents; to document their experiences, attitudes and accomplishments as seen through their own eyes; to inform and expand the understanding of the superintendency based on the real life experiences of superintendents; to develop new areas for preservice and inservice training of superintendents; and to identify areas for future study. An exploratory case study approach was used. The method for gathering the data, the in-depth phenomenological interview, was based on the model of I. E. Seidman which requires a series of three separate interviews with each participant. The interview trilogy was titled as follows: Life History, Contemporary Experience and Meaning to the Participant. In analyzing the data, a multifaceted approach was used, including Banfield's rephrased questions, an Affinity Diagram, four significant authors and an independent reader's observations. This yielded five conclusions: The exercise of power is linked to the person's character; the interactions with other players is influenced by family dynamics; the position and title of superintendent must be accompanied by persuasion and agreement power; evidence exists of a shift from "power over" to "power with"; there is a formula for mobilizing the organization' s resources and people to accomplish goals. The theory resulting from the conclusions was based on four general principles: that past experience determines current behavior relative to the exercise of power; that power is a process linked to purpose; that leadership and followership are interwoven; that power depends on context and resources. Recommendations for preservice and inservice training of superintendents took the form of three suggested training modules, "Self-Analysis and Personal Development," "Skills for Leading Socially Complex School Districts" and "Communication Skills for School Leaders." Suggestions for further study included replication, expansion of number of cases, comparison of those identified as less successful in exercising power, comparison with CEOs from other organizations, expansion of the context of the study to include interviews of others, development of a questionnaire, and development of a controlled study.

Subject Area

School administration|Educational sociology|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Sheff Kohn, Claire Louise, "Exploratory case study of the power problem of the superintendency" (1995). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9606530.