Latino School Superintendents in Large Urban School Districts: A Phenomenological Study



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The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of Latino superintendents’ who work in large urban school districts. Additionally examined was how the participants’ experiences contributed to or inhibited their successes as superintendents, including membership in social networks and the acquisition of compensatory skills. Large urban school district superintendents’ preparation and background knowledge is known to influence the key decisions they make and ultimately reflect the values and norms of the district they represent (Meier, Wrinkle, & Polinard, 1999; Rocha & Hawes, 2009).


This study was conducted using a qualitative design, combining phenomenological and narrative approaches. These approaches allowed for the capturing of the collective voices of the five Latino superintendents selected for study participation. Their life experiences were documented through their own narratives as collected through two rounds of individual interviews and a background questionnaire. Analysis of the narrative data involved a constant comparison process using NVIVO as a tool to identify patterns and themes in the superintendents’ experiences.

Key Findings

Findings from this study have significant implications for the academic preparation and mentoring of Latino school leaders. Participants shared the need to develop compensatory skills, compensate for self-depreciative thinking, and celebrate culture-sharing characteristics. Code-switching, honoring hierarchal constructs, reverence for elders, and being humbled servant leaders were viewed as positive attributes. Overall, participants’ inhibiting factors were found in professional networks, race and ethnicity biases, and cultural cross-overs. Additionally, participants shared the need to press for the interest and desires for those people they presumed to represent, on both community and societal levels.


Based on the results of this study, the scarcity of superintendents in large urban school districts who are Latino might be attributed to insufficient opportunities to participate in educational programs and networking specifically targeting culture-sharing factors and generational barriers that inhibit success. Intentional efforts to develop the compensatory skills and cultural competency training of aspiring Latino superintendents might provide more guidance in career path development. Additionally, highly qualified Latino school superintendents are called to serve as mentors and to legitimize the shared social, cultural, and historical phenomena of being Latino and an aspiring educational leader in the United States.



Latino school leaders, Latino educational career pathways, compensatory skills, culture-sharing characteristics, Vocación emproista