Attracting Principals to the Superintendency


  • Aimee Howley Ohio University
  • Edwina Pendarvis Marshall University
  • Thomas Gibbs Morgan Junior High School - McConnnelsville, Ohio



Administrator Attitudes, Career Choice, Educational Administration, Elementary Secondary Education, Incentives, Motivation, Principals, Superintendents


Responding to a perceived shortage of school superintendents in Ohio as well as elsewhere in the nation, this study examined the conditions of the job that make it attractive or unattractive as a career move for principals. The researchers surveyed a random sample of Ohio principals, receiving usable responses from 508 of these administrators. Analysis of the data revealed that principals perceived the ability to make a difference and the extrinsic motivators (e.g., salary and benefits) associated with the superintendency as conditions salient to the decision to pursue such a job. Furthermore, they viewed the difficulties associated with the superintendency as extremely important. Among these difficulties, the most troubling were: (1) increased burden of responsibility for local, state, and federal mandates; (2) need to be accountable for outcomes that are beyond an educator’s control; (3) low levels of board support, and (4) excessive pressure to perform. The researchers also explored the personal and contextual characteristics that predisposed principals to see certain conditions of the superintendency as particularly attractive or particularly troublesome. Only two such characteristics, however, proved to be predictive: (1) principals with fewer years of teaching experience were more likely than their more experienced counterparts to rate the difficulty of the job as important to the decision to pursue a position as superintendent, and (2) principals who held cosmopolitan commitments were more likely than those who did not hold such commitments to view the salary and benefits associated with the superintendency as important. Findings from the study provided some guidance to those policy makers who are looking for ways to make the superintendency more attractive as a career move for principals. In particular, the study suggested that policy makers should work to design incentives that address school leaders’ interest in making a difference at the district level. At the same time, they should focus on efforts to reduce the burdens that external mandates contribute to the already burdensome job of school superintendent.


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Author Biographies

Aimee Howley, Ohio University

Aimee Howley is chair of the Educational Studies Department at Ohio University, where she also coordinates and teaches in the Educational Administration program. Her recent research focuses on the effects of educational policies and practices on schools (especially rural schools) and communities.

Edwina Pendarvis, Marshall University

Edwina Pendarvis is a professor in the School of Education at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. Her chief research interests are gifted education and education in rural communities.

Thomas Gibbs, Morgan Junior High School - McConnnelsville, Ohio

Thomas Gibbs is an assistant principal at Morgan Junior High School in McConnnelsville, Ohio and is currently working towards a doctoral degree in Educational Administration at Ohio University. He has recently served as the coordinator of the Southeastern Ohio Regional Principals Academy and as a research team member for the Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools.




How to Cite

Howley, A., Pendarvis, E., & Gibbs, T. (2002). Attracting Principals to the Superintendency. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10, 43.