Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Executive Leadership

First Supervisor

Dr. Terry Ward

Second Supervisor

Dr. Vicma Ramos


The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted P-12 public schools in the United States. School district superintendents were forced immediately into managing a crisis and leading organizational adaptation. This doctoral research study examined the lived experience of 15 New York State P-12 public school superintendents. This constructivist grounded theory study found that adaptation is a forced change. The environment forced schools to change, but that force did not change superintendent leadership. It did, however, change the role of the superintendents as they responded to the three major conditions that emerged across the data: (a) the shutdown of schools in March 2020, (b) uncertain financial futures, and (c) unraveling social dynamics. This study found that existing crisis leadership models and adaptive leadership theory were inadequate and incongruent with the data. The study develops a new theoretical framework, leading in forced change, in which superintendent leadership and organizational management together and independently result in four primary domains of superintendent practice: (a) adaptation and problem solving, (b) collaboration and teamwork, (c) communication, and (d) community building. The proposed theory is grounded in empirical evidence, and as such is also a new model of superintendent leadership that is observable, centered on change leadership-management, rejects the false dichotomy of leadership and management, and incorporates the context in which a superintendent is leading as these domains of practice are co-constructed between the leader and those they are leading, resulting in a constructivist and pragmatic model of superintendent leadership.

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