Page 79 - Volume 6 - Issue 1 - DBU Journal for K-12 Educational Leadership

Journal of K-12 Educational Research 77 THE IMPACT OF PROFESSIONAL NETWORKS FOR SUPERINTENDENTS IN SMALL, RURAL TEXAS DISTRICTS DURING THE COVID 19 CRISIS Mickie Jackson, EdD Journal of K-12 Educational Research 2022, VOL. 6, ISSUE 1 Introduction The superintendent position in small, rural districts involves high visibility and accountability for the management of finances, personnel, operations, and student achievement (Lamkin, 2006). Not only is the district leadership role unique in the context of a small community, but it changes frequently as superintendents assume the responsibilities of multiple assignments to bridge the gaps caused by limited resources (Copeland, 2013). In the absence of additional district level administrators for collaboration or delegation, they seek leadership support from professional networks for guidance and innovative strategies to overcome complex challenges that arise (Fette, 2018). When faced with a crisis, the school community looks to the superintendent as a source of the most current and accurate information as well as reassurance and direction. In March of 2020, the designation of SARS CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus as a global pandemic precipitated an unprecedented crisis for education and all other societal institutions. This levelled the field between new and tenured superintendents because none held the advantage of previous experience or historical data from which to draw conclusions or construct expectations (Saraceno, 2021). Superintendents had to examine and adapt policies and operations, prepare the school community to navigate significant changes, and provide critical resources while mandates, guidance, and access to resources rapidly and continuously evolved. The pandemic magnified the disadvantage of superintendents in small, rural districts who lack the benefit of administrative teams for making high stakes decisions and delegating expanding responsibilities. They relied on professional networks to help process high volumes of information from various state and federal entities, collaborate for solutions for diverse challenges, and even provide moral support through the crisis. Literature Review In Texas, the superintendent serves as the chief executive officer of the district, responsible for instructional leadership, fiscal management, facilities and operations management, and community engagement (Texas Education Code §11.201). Highly effective superintendents leverage interpersonal skills to build relationships within the organization, to advocate for the district and engage in networking, to recruit and retain talent, and to build organizational culture (Hoyle et al., 2004). These skills are arguably of greater importance for those in small, rural districts where limited personnel and resources require versatility to meet the demands of the position as well as a high level of engagement to meet the expectations of stakeholders (Weiss, 2016). The school commonly serves as the largest employer in the community, an important source of services for families, and the focal point and venue for events and activities (Mahoit, 2005), and superintendents experience an increased sense of exposure and accountability as one of the highest profile positions in the area (Overbo, 2016). Often serving as the only district