School of Education


Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (EdD)


Sharon Michael-Chadwell


Leadership, Motivation, Persistence, Social Support


Educational Leadership


The purpose of this qualitative multiple case study was to describe the experiences of African American women in their ascent to the position of superintendent in school districts in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The theories guiding this study were Delgado’s critical race theory and Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory as they address the plights faced by African American women, specifically racism, sexism, classism, loneliness, microaggressions, marginality syndrome, and the status of outsider. The central question guiding this study was: How do African American female superintendents describe their success and perseverance achieving the school superintendent position? The subquestions for this study were designed to explore in deeper detail how African American female superintendents describe their path to success in achieving superintendence and how they describe the experiences and strategies that contributed to their perseverance in superintendence. Data collection included individual interviews with 11 past and present superintendents of school districts in the Commonwealth of Virginia, a focus group interview with five participants, and participants’ documents and personal artifacts. Data analysis involved organizing and coding the data to reflect the research subquestion areas of success and perseverance, to produce two major themes: desire to succeed and determination to continue. Findings included study participants’ descriptions of their experiences as challenging with gender and race presenting obstacles to their leadership progression, but they viewed their impact on others as a significant motivator to persist. Additionally, all agreed success is achievable when there are supportive professional and personal networks in place to undergird their efforts to lead.