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Dissertation Abstract

Superintendent Succession in Public Education: 
A Study of Insiders and Outsiders

Richard T. Geisel
Regent University

Succession in leadership is an issue that all organizations must eventually cope with. The purpose of this study was to explore the extent to which successor origin impacts the outcome of superintendent succession in public education. R.O. Carlson (1961) conducted a study forty years ago that led him to the conclusion that insider and outsider superintendents relate to their districts in different ways. Carlson found significant differences between insider and outsider superintendents regarding length of tenure, salaries, attitudes toward mobility, succession patterns, ratios of insiders to outsiders, and their roles as either change agents or stabilizers. One of the objectives of this study was to refresh Carlson's work by testing his findings to see if they still held true in light of all the changes that the superintendency has undergone in the last forty years. Another objective of this study was to build upon Carlson's research by testing the relationship of successor origin to new areas, such as job satisfaction, communication, approval ratings, contract length, and others.

This study surveyed the entire population of public school superintendents in the state of Michigan. Through the use of an online survey, 69% of all Michigan superintendents participated in the study. The findings of this study confirmed Carlson's (1961) conclusions that there is a significant relationship between successor origin and (a) a superintendent's role as a change agent or a stabilizer, (b) attitudes toward mobility, (c) succession patterns, and (d) the ratio of insiders to outsiders. However, no significant relationship was found to exist between successor origin and either length of tenure or salaries.

Several other hypotheses regarding successor origin were also tested.  The conclusion drawn from the data is that successor origin plays a less significant role in various areas of the superintendency than it appears to have played forty years ago when Carlson (1961) first conducted his research. Nevertheless, there is ample room and a definite need for further research in this area, employing alternative methodologies that probe deeper into the effects successor origin has on the public school district experiencing a succession in leadership.