Document Type



Doctor of Education


Educational Leadership

First Adviser

Sperandio, Jill

Other advisers/committee members

Beachum, Floyd; Donohue, Louise; O'Connell, Bridget


A variety of factors contribute to women's underrepresentation in educational administration, particularly in positions that traditionally lead to the superintendency. This study examines the career pathways of female superintendent aspirants from the elementary principalship. A conceptual framework based on career development and motivation theories was developed to guide this inquiry. Using a convergent mixed methods design, a survey of a random sample of female elementary principals and interviews from case studies reveals that aspirants to the superintendency perceive district-level positions as accessible and advantageous to their career development. The results of this study support the use of alternative career pathways to the superintendency among female elementary principals who are historically underrepresented in top leadership positions. The implications of this study suggest that women develop aspirations to the superintendency and make career pathway decisions based on their career commitments and the value they imbue in gaining leadership experience in sentinel positions as opposed to following a traditional hierarchy to career advancement. Furthermore, the implications of this study include a re-envisioning of inquiries into women's access to the superintendency to shift from a gender-specific lens to include a focus on the role of diverse professional experiences and leadership development in superintendent preparation. Professional practices such as mentorships and professional networks would promote women's aspirations and attainment of school and district leadership positions.