Date of Award

Fall 2023

Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Paul Naso

Second Advisor

Valerie Shinas

Third Advisor

Curtis Bates


The health, social, political, and economic crises that had national and global impacts in 2020 and 2021 brought renewed attention to systemic inequalities in public education and challenged school superintendents to reconsider how they involve others in addressing those disparities. This narrative study explored how the convergent crises and tense social and political climate of 2020 and 2021 have affected Massachusetts school superintendents personally and professionally. Guiding questions inquired about how superintendents recounted their experiences during this period and their impact on their conception of their role and responsibilities and their identity as a leader. A purposeful sampling technique was used to select ten participants from varied K-12 districts throughout Massachusetts who were experienced in the role of superintendent Two remote, semi-structured interviews were conducted with each participant during the summer and fall of 2021. Thematic analysis of the narratives yielded eight findings. The findings portray experiences characterized by a climate of unfamiliar, uncertain, and divisive conditions that required adaptations to their sensemaking, decision-making, communication, and emotional intelligence skills and conditions that necessitated expanded collaboration and novel engagement with the community. The findings show that the experience occasioned changes in how they inhabit the political space of their role and in how they communicate with stakeholders, increasingly leading them to think of their role as relationally interactive, politically embedded, and focused on equity. Recommendations advise that superintendents (a) embrace relational and interactive leadership practices and make crisis management and strategies for communication, engagement, and collaboration priorities for their professional learning and (b) become proactive on issues of social justice and equity. The study also urges strengthened role affinity networks to support their work as superintendents and their own well-being.

Keywords: School Superintendents, Crisis Leadership, Health Pandemic, Sensemaking, Role Conception, Leadership Identity

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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