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Recruiting and Retaining BIPOC Superintendents
June 2021


"What does the research say about the recruitment, hiring, retention and turnover among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) superintendents?"

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Angel, R. B., Killacky, J., & Johnson, P. R. (2013). African American women aspiring to the superintendency: Lived experiences and barriers. Journal of School Leadership, 23(4), 592-614. Full text available at:

From the Abstract:
"Focused on the absence of a viable population of African American women in the superintendency, this study addressed barriers described by 10 credentialed, district-level Southern women who hold advanced education degrees coupled with years of leadership experience. This phenomenological study used interview methodology to uncover the lived experiences of African American women who were positioned professionally to apply for the superintendency. A Black feminist construct was employed to interpret personal themes--early expectations, family influences, ethical beliefs, vigilant preparation--that converged with external themes--disconnection from networks, oppression, and selection processes--to reveal obstacles to applying for the superintendency. Profiles of well-credentialed African American women educators are provided."

Baker, L. L., & Judson, I. S. D. (2020). Pathways and perseverance: Exploring the underrepresentation of African American women superintendents. The Journal of the Texas Alliance of Black School Educators, 5(1), 181-206. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"For years, research has revealed the ongoing underrepresentation of African American women superintendents throughout the United States. And yet, the gap continues to spread in comparison to Anglo men and women, as well as African American male superintendents. This wide-spread occurrence could be perceived as a silent epidemic. Many African American women apply for the position of chief executive officer of public schools; however, very few are successful in attaining the position. The purpose of this qualitative, narrative study was to examine perceptions of three individuals well-respected in their field: African American women superintendents of different experiences and school districts, their ascension to and their resiliency in the superintendency. Resiliency and Women of Color Framework were utilized as the theoretical lens. The analysis of the interviews revealed the following themes: using traditional pathways; being the first African-American appointed as public school superintendents for their districts; being hired by school boards made-up of majority Anglo males; having support systems such as family and friends, mentors, professional organizations, spirituality; and having perseverance – all which played an intricate role towards their ascension to the superintendency."

Brown, A. R. (2014). The recruitment and retention of African American women as public school superintendents. Journal of Black Studies, 45(6), 573-593. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This qualitative study was based on a phenomenological narrative design that specifically addresses the issues of recruitment and retention of African American women in the public school superintendency. The narratives of eight African American women participants identified common similarities and differences about race, gender, and social politics as applied to recruitment and retention of public school superintendents. When African American women are hired for and able to maintain the public school superintendency, they in fact are learning, teaching, and modeling how to overcome racism, sexism, and oppressive sociopolitics. This is not to say that every African American woman hired as a public school superintendent has the capacity to become a transformative leader within a school district, but rather their mere presence in the position demonstrates their individual ability to transcend the challenges presented throughout this study."

Castillo, I., Menchaca, V. D., & Lopez-Estrada, V. (2021). Latina female superintendents securing positions in small rural school districts. AASA Journal of Scholarship & Practice, 17(4), 7. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Underrepresentation of women in the position of school superintendent has been identified as an equity issue in the field of education. National demographics show that approximately 73% of school superintendents are male as compared to only 27% female. Of these female superintendents, Latina and nonwhite female superintendents make up a small percentage of this group (Kominiak, 2016) and scarce in the literature. This research study revealed that Latina superintendents were attracted to small rural districts with a familial environment with high levels of parental and community involvement. They shared the perspective that small rural communities seemed to be more receptive to having a Latina superintendent than larger, more urban school districts. Gender discrimination occurred in some, but not all participant cases."

Chalmers, A. G. (2012). Examining the African American K–12 public superintendency from a critical race theory perspective: Counter-stories about hiring and 205 retention practices. (Publication No. 3513114) [Doctoral Dissertation, Northern Illinois University]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. Full-text available at:

From the Abstract:
"For the last decade, research has shown concern about the pool of African American candidates for the superintendency. Nationally, African American candidates make up two percent of superintendents and fourteen percent of the teaching force, the pool from which superintendents are traditionally chosen. Increasing demands to meet the needs of culturally diverse students is a reality of the 21st century school administrator. As a result, the underrepresentation of African Americans in administrative leadership is problematic. This dissertation describes the experiences of five African American superintendents specific to career paths and navigation of the job search process. It identifies the factors that help or hinder African American superintendents in maintaining their positions. Additionally, it explores Du Bois's concept of double consciousness through participant counter-stories. A critical race theory framework was used to explore the relationship among race, racism, and power in the narratives of African American superintendents. Through stories that challenge the mainstream, discrepancies between the cover and the reality of authentic experience were exposed. Utilizing grounded inquiry, theories were derived from interview data acquired over a one year period and through analysis of resumes. Data were analyzed by first identifying categories and concepts and continuing to refine and categorize as new data were collected. Larger themes were then tested to develop emergent theories. Finally, emergent theories were validated with superintendents. Study findings underscored differential experiences between the male and female superintendents. When analyzing the career paths of the participants, the two male African American superintendents had career paths that mirrored those of the typical white male superintendent. In contrast, the paths of the women were generally not as direct. Significant differences were also noted in the nature of the first superintendency. Even when utilizing strong mentor networks, females were selected by districts in significant turmoil. Additionally, differential experiences were seen as females chose to serve in their positions for a longer period of time. The study concluded by suggesting that future studies delve further into the nature of the experience of the African American female superintendent. Implications for recruitment and retention were discussed and recommendations for practice were suggested."

Davis, B. W., & Bowers, A. J. (2019). Examining the career pathways of educators with superintendent certification. Educational Administration Quarterly, 55(1), 3–41.

From the Abstract:
"Purpose: We used gatekeeping theory to frame our examination of whether and when educators with superintendent certification become superintendents, and how their likelihood of making that transition is influenced by race, sex, and other characteristics. Furthermore, we sought to identify variation in career pathways to the superintendency. Data and Method: We analyzed 26,071 observations of 4,813 unique individuals, representing the entire population of Texas public school educators who obtained their first superintendent certificate between the 2000-2001 and 2014-2015 school years. We constructed alluvial diagrams to visualize these educators' career pathways. In addition to compiling a life table and visual displays of hazard, we used a discrete-time hazard model to control for individual and contextual characteristics associated with transitions into the superintendency. Findings: Educators are most likely to enter the superintendency in the academic year immediately following that in which they obtained the requisite certification. Furthermore, pathways to the superintendency differ greatly based on educator sex and race, as well as the level and locale employment setting. Finally, we determined that age, experience, education, level of employment, and sex all have statistically significant impacts on the likelihood of becoming a superintendent. Implications for Research and Practice: We discuss the role that researchers must play in coordinating with practitioners to ensure more equitable opportunity for aspiring superintendents. We also emphasize the important role that preparation programs play in preparing candidates for the job market. Finally, we ponder further expansions of similar presuperintendency research, as well as more robust applications of alluvial diagrams."

Fields III, M. R., Jones, D., & Korelich, K. (2019). Experiences of African American superintendents in Texas. Research in Higher Education Journal, 37.

From the Abstract:
"The topic of African American superintendents has been largely neglected in society. Research studies revealed that an under-representation of African American superintendents exists. This ethnic disparity is a valid concern. This study was based on the premise that additional research studies are needed to understand the climate, culture and leadership experiences of African American superintendents in Texas. Although African American men and women are pursuing careers in the superintendency, there is still a shortage of available research data that explores their experiences. This basic interpretive qualitative research study explored the overall experiences and perceptions of six African American superintendents in Texas. Indepth, semi-structured interviews provided rich, thick descriptions, feelings and an interpretive perspective of this purposive and snowball sampling. The researcher served as the instrument to data collection. The method of triangulation was employed to ensure trustworthiness, credibility and member checking where the participants confirmed that the data were interpreted correctly by the researcher to improve the quality of the research. This study contributed new knowledge from an African American perspective. Social Cognitive Theory was the theoretical framework for this qualitative study (Bandura, 1986; Bussey & Bandura, 1999). The results of this investigation reflected the personal experiences, views and perceptions of six African-American superintendents as they obtained their desired positions. The findings revealed there were some barriers and challenges facing aspiring African American superintendents: (a) lack of networking, (b) lack of mentors, (c) lack of school district pool of potential African American candidates and (d) lack of professional educational and equity associations. Recommendations that resulted from this investigation included that as aspiring African American superintendents, they must learn to develop professional and personal network of contacts. As aspiring African American superintendents seek superintendent positions, they need to research the demographics, culture and needs of the district, stakeholders and board members. Finally, professional educational associations need to be inclusive and expand their membership pool to include underrepresented African American educators."

Grissom, J. A., & Mitani, H. (2016). Salary, performance, and superintendent turnover. Educational Administration Quarterly, 52(3), 351-391. Full text available at:

From the Abstract:
"Purpose: Superintendent retention is an important goal for many school districts, yet the factors contributing to superintendent turnover are poorly understood. Most prior quantitative studies of superintendent turnover have relied on small, cross-sectional samples, limiting the evidence base. Utilizing longitudinal administrative records from Missouri, we employ panel methods to investigate factors that predict turnover, including superintendent salary and district performance. Research Methods: We model turnover probability as a function of superintendent and district characteristics. Further investigation differentiates types of turnover, including movement to other superintendent positions and exits from the system. A series of binary and multinomial regression models with district, labor market, and/or superintendent fixed effects are estimated. Findings: Like prior cross-sectional work, we find that district characteristics such as size and student race/ethnicity predict superintendent turnover, but only before district fixed effects are included. Districts with lower test scores also have higher rates of turnover, though we also find surprising evidence of nonlinearities, with lower turnover in the lowest performing districts. Superintendent salary is an especially strong turnover predictor; even with district and superintendent fixed effects, higher paid superintendents are substantially more likely to stay, an association that is even stronger in high-performing districts. Moreover, moves to new superintendent positions are associated with substantial salary gains and systematic changes in district characteristics, such as increases in district size and achievement level, with rural districts losing superintendents to urban and suburban districts. Implications: Increasing superintendent salary may be a worthwhile strategy for retaining superintendents, and may be especially important in smaller and rural districts and districts with lower student achievement whose superintendents are more likely to move to higher paying positions in larger, higher performing districts in more urban areas."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: (Superintendent OR superintendency OR "superintendents of color"), (African-American OR African American OR Black OR Latino OR Latina OR Hispanic OR "American Indian" OR "Native American" OR Tribal), Recruitment, (Retaining OR retention), Turnover, Barriers

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.