Department of Educational Administration


Date of this Version



Grady, M. L., & McKay, J. (1995). Early leaver superintendents. In Creating the Quality School, ed. Edward W. Chance (Madison, WI: Magna, 1995), pp. 40-44.


© 1995 by Magna Publications, Inc.


In studies of the critical incidents that cause superintendent turnover (Grady and Bryant, 1991a; Grady and Bryant, 1991b; Grady and Bryant, 1991c), we became aware of the "early leaver" phenomenon in the profession. This phenomenon has caused us to question early leavers about their incentives for staying in or leaving the superintendency.

The discussion of when and if education will ever be a "true" profession is intertwined with the departure of individuals from the superintendency at the prime of their careers. How often do we learn of physicians who leave the medical profession at 45 or 50?

Our study was informed. by the literature concerning the superintendency. The works of Schmuck and Schmuck (1992), Blumberg and Blumberg (1985), and Callahan (1962), address the controversy that accompanies the superintendent's role. The descriptions of the critical incidents that precipitate superintendent turnover are documented by Grady and Bryant (1991a, 1991b, 1991c).

Eaton (1990) defined the forces that undermine the superintendent's effectiveness. These include board decisions and pressure by teacher organizations and citizen groups. Superintendents, too, are continuously placed in the unsavory situation of implementing and enforcing decisions and policies that may conflict with the superintendent's point of view. Callahan's (1962) vulnerability thesis states that the nature of the superintendency makes the incumbent vulnerable, vulnerability is cumulative, and vulnerability leads to turnover.

Waller (1932) described the superintendency as a situation in which, over time, a superintendent makes more enemies than friends. By virtue of the role, the superintendent is in a position of having many opportunities to become unpopular yet few opportunities for gaining friends. It takes only two or three years for this erosive situation to take its toll on the superintendent. In a study of California superintendents, Giles and Giles (1990) reported that 80% of the individuals who left superintendencies did not assume a new superintendency within the next two years.

The purpose for conducting our study was to determine what factors caused individuals to become early leavers. By early leavers we mean individuals who did not seek new superintendencies after voluntarilyor involuntarily leaving a superintendency before reaching retirement.