Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Educational Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Tricia Browne-Ferrigno


Women historically hit a glass ceiling when trying to reach for a school district’s highest position. While nationally an overwhelming majority of educators are female, approximately only a quarter of all superintendents are women. In Kentucky, 19% of public school superintendents are female. Female superintendent research has focused on the barriers that inhibit women from obtaining the superintendency; however, recently a shift to focus on how women lead has occurred.

The superintendency encompasses five roles: instructional leader, manager, political leader, communicator and applied social scientist. Although female superintendents’ strength is often instructional leadership, the role of political leader is met with some difficulty. This exploratory study examines experienced Kentucky female superintendents’ perceptions and practices of political leadership. The research was conducted in two phases: Phase 1 invited all Kentucky female superintendents to participate in demographic questionnaire, and Phase 2 encompassed two one-hour interviews with six experienced Kentucky superintendents.

Four main areas provide the foundation for inquiry: preservice experiences, defining political leadership, behaviors of political leadership, and levels of political leadership. Kentucky female superintendents stated political leadership was the role they were least prepared for in the infancy of their superintendency. Female superintendents’ lived-experiences differed from the norm of political leadership.

Female district leaders outlined a cyclical, proactive process of political leadership dependent on relationships—networking. Women superintendents capitalized on referent power to develop a “political lens” when making decisions. Study participants reported two distinct levels of political leadership (local and state), and they connected their district’s vision to resources—people—and served as a bridge to connect outside resources into the district. This work affirms previous research concerning female superintendents but also brings to light how women perceive politics, which is outside some of the previous norms and research concerning political leadership.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)