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The Superintendent's Leadership in School Reform


reviewed by Arthur Blumberg - 1989

coverTitle: The Superintendent's Leadership in School Reform
Author(s): Dorothy Fast Wissler, Flora Ida Ortiz
Publisher: Falmer Press, London
ISBN: 1850002622, Pages: , Year: 1988
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This book is a case study of the reorganization of a school district from one that was characteristically bureaucratic to one that was decentralized in both program and budget. Its focus is on the role of the superintendent, thus departing from the current concern with the principal in school-site change. The reform that is described is not the type of reform that has been center stage in this country over the last half dozen years or so. For that, minimally, we can be thankful. The process of reorganization took place between 1960 and 1978. It appears, though nowhere is it specifically so stated, that the book is the publication of the doctoral dissertation of the senior author. At least, it reads like a dissertation and there is a citation of the senior author’s doctoral study in the bibliography that suggests that is what we have. This is not to suggest that the publication of one’s dissertation is to be avoided—quite the opposite, as any doctoral student or professor will tell you. It is only to say that it would probably have been well if note of this were made in a preface.


The focus of the book seems to be the development of something called “intentional leadership,” with a seven-stage process of transformation from a bureaucratic institution to a decentralized one. The authors then state that “the analysis establishes that intentional leadership style is required for organizational change which transforms a bureaucratic institution into a decentralized one through seven stages” (p. 2). If I read this correctly, the implication is that this is the only way to accomplish institutional change, though this is perhaps not the intent of the authors.


As I read the book I alternately tried to place myself in the role of professor and that of practitioner. The questions I asked myself in these two roles were, “What would I learn from this book, chapter, paragraph, or sentence if I were a professor (which I am) or a school superintendent (which I’ve never been)?” The answer to the question, regardless of the role I chose was, sorry to say, “Not much.” The story that is told is an interesting one in many ways, but I found it too cluttered up with what appear to be attempts to be academic and the academy’s fairly stilted language to hold my attention for long periods of time. For example, I am still not sure what “intentional leadership” is—or, for that matter, if it is anything. One can take the “brute” point of view that all behavior is purposeful and not try and create a new concept—“intentional leadership”—that probably does not exist. The point I want to make is that I think the authors had a pretty good story to tell but they diminished it by trying to make its interpretation palatable to academics. It did not come off and, in the process, lost value both to the academy and to the field.


There are other problems, as well. A glaring one is the sentence “The study under investigation took place between 1960 and 1978” (p. 5). The long-term nature of the study turns out to be more apparent than real, however. In fact, the “data was gathered from . . . retrospective interviews” in which the respondents were asked to recall the changes brought about by the superintendent and interviews that were the “respondent’s retrospective analysis of actions taken between the dates under study” (p. 8). That much is straightened out, at least. It was not an eighteen-year study.


I realize that I have been quite critical of this book, suggesting that it has few redeeming features. However, if one can plough through the “scientese” it makes a fair enough story, though I had trouble following the threads of the plot.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 90 Number 4, 1989, p. 646-647
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 517, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 12:45:15 PM

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