Date of Paper/Work


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Aura Wharton-Beck, Kate Maguire, Sarah Noonan



This phenomenological inquiry explored how principals and district administrators in small, single high school, school districts experienced the phenomenon of superintendent turnover, while examining the perceived effects of superintendent change on these leaders as they navigated the organizational turbulence created by change in the superintendency. Superintendent movement trends toward larger, and more urban and suburban districts (Alsbury, 2004; Grissom & Mitani, 2016; Kamrath, 2014), the probability of principals in small school districts experiencing superintendent turnover is significant. According to Fullan (2000), turnover in the superintendency can result in significant changes to the mission and vision of a school district, that may be felt for years. However, while the research predicts higher rates of superintendent change in smaller school districts, the literature is almost silent on the impact of superintendent turnover on the next layer of leadership in school districts. Ten principals and two district administrators representing six Midwestern school districts (four rural and two suburban) participated in this study.

This phenomenological inquiry produced five key findings indicating that principals and district leaders experience a variety of mixed emotions throughout their interaction with the phenomenon of superintendent turnover and the level of collective trust within a district significantly impacts or intensifies the emotions and interactions these leaders experience during this organizational transition. This study produced six implications leading to the following five recommendations to current and aspiring superintendents and school board members to consider prior to and throughout their experience with superintendent turnover: embrace multiplicity, foster collective trust, develop a transition plan for principals, create transparency in process and communication, and know the new superintendent cheat code.

Keywords: Superintendent turnover, leadership transitions, collective trust, school district administration.


Superintendent turnover, leadership transitions, collective trust, school district administration

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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