A study of principal -superintendent partnerships
The district superintendent and the building principal have each been identified as critical players in school change research. They are viewed, however, as functioning in a hierarchical relationship with the superintendent on top.
Expectations for the work of the superintendent are numerous and often conflicting. Their work is embedded in the complex social and political context of school reform, characterized by high demands for accountability and high expectations for creative, responsive, and innovative educational practice such as creating new schools, implementing new professional development and instructional models, etc. to address district issues and challenges.
However, research and experience indicate that meaningful and lasting change needs to occur at the school level. Principals are involved in and responsible for a similar set of issues and activities in their respective schools.
Using the work of innovation as the lens, this study examines, from the perspective of fourteen high school principals, the superintendent-principal relationship and district structures and practices that support innovation in this overlapping work within one high school district in New York City.
The objectives of this study are: (1) To describe principals' perspectives on their shared work with superintendents and (2) To describe the emerging dynamic in relationships with superintendents.
This qualitative study is grounded in Dougherty's (1996) theory of the innovative organization in which she identifies four activities essential to initiating, facilitating and supporting innovation: (1) Market-Technology Linking, (2) Creative Problem Solving, Evaluating and Monitoring, Developing Commitment to Innovation. Dougherty also identifies two sets of tensions that accompany these activities: (1) Outside vs. Inside, (2) New vs. Old and which must be managed. Major findings include: (1) The Accountability Movement has increased the importance of innovation to improve student outcomes. (2) Superintendents play a key role in identifying the innovations; however, principals make them their own. (3) Supports from the Superintendent such as information, training, funding, expertise, time, a sense of community and emotional support are critical to the success of an innovation. (4) Innovation needs a safe environment. Open and honest communication based on mutual respect and a sense of partnership are important elements to this safe environment.