Women Superintendents in the Rural Midwest

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Educational Administration


Department of Educational Administration


Mary Ziskin


Women represent the majority of teachers in U. S. public schools; yet, only 26.7% of superintendents leading districts are women (Tienken, 2021, p.19). Although women have made gains in leading schools in larger districts, the same trend is not evident in smaller, rural school systems, which describe the majority of school districts in the United States (AASA: The School Superintendents Association, 2017). Scholars commonly attribute this disparity to gender bias prevalent in rural cultures (Agostine-Wilson, 2017; Quinlan, 2013; Keller, 2014). To help address gender inequalities in Department of Educational Administration., schools, districts, and educational leaders must develop an awareness of specific structural and sociocultural challenges to the superintendency faced by women in rural contexts and take proactive steps to understand and mitigate those challenges. This study focused on the narratives and lived experiences of 12 women superintendents in rural school districts. The purpose of this research was to explore, through the critical lens of intersectional feminist theory, the potential challenges to the public school district superintendency that women face in the rural Midwest. Critical narrative inquiry helped explore the challenges that women face when aspiring to the superintendency in the rural Midwest. Using intersectional feminist theory as outlined by Crenshaw (1989) and Hankivsky (2014) assisted with analyzing the stories of rural women superintendents' discussing obstacles that they encountered when reaching for positions of power in rural communities. This study also explored the effects that COVID-19 had on these women's experiences as rural superintendents, an important aspect of their experience since the pandemic has disproportionally affected women in the United States (AAUW, 2020; Donovan and Labonte, 2020; Hilferty et al., 2021; Karageorge, 2020). By exploring and exposing challenges to the superintendency of rural Midwestern school districts faced by women, this study can help those interested in pursuing careers as rural school district leaders to learn about those obstacles and thus prepare themselves better to overcome them. The findings can potentially help aspiring women educational leaders devise strategies to overcome those challenges, such as using allies, mentors, and networks, as well as means to address gender bias. Additionally, this study can help policymakers and professional organizations develop courses of action to assist aspirants and districts with overcoming or dismantling those obstacles. This study's findings offer insights to rural school district leadership and boards of education to help them advance gender equity in their districts, ensuring that they have the best leadership possible. This study's findings can also serve as a springboard for more research on overcoming specific challenges to the superintendency, help graduate programs to incorporate curricula that would assist rural districts with these barriers, and provide suggestions to prospective superintendents of all genders for navigating rural contexts while serving as educational leaders. This study also provided an avenue for rural women superintendents to celebrate their surmounting these challenges. Finally, this study aims to promote gender equity in rural K-12 systems to support women serving in district-level leadership roles with providing leadership models for all students, especially those who identify as female.


Department of Educational Administration., Gender, Gender Studies, School Administration, Women’s Studies, women superintendents, rural women superintendents, rural women superintendents in the Midwest, intersectional feminist theory, women superintendents and gender bias

Rights Statement

Copyright © 2023, author