Page 84 - Volume 6 - Issue 1 - DBU Journal for K-12 Educational Leadership

82 challenges. Superintendents place considerable value on the relationships and trust fostered through interactions with their professional networks. The absence of additional central office personnel with district level experience or expertise prompted superintendents’ interactions with professional networks to aid in the response to COVID-19. However, although they continually sought guidance, information, and resources, superintendents’ interaction with professional networks did not significantly influence locally made decisions, which is an unexpected finding of the current study. They gathered, synthesized, and considered the best practice information and the examples from organizations, they valued the support and consensus among peers, and they articulated the need for both. However, the unique circumstances of the pandemic combined with unique community sentiment increased the importance of school community collaboration for district-specific decisions. Superintendents relied on local data, district stakeholder influence, and shared concern for a safe learning and working environment to lead their districts through the crisis. Conclusion The findings from the current study emphasize the complex and difficult experience of executive leadership for superintendents in small, rural districts during the COVID-19 crisis and the essential nature of relationships when political and economic stressors rose to an overwhelming level. Informal professional networks established with trusted colleagues allow for meaningful interactions within a safe environment for operational support, moral support, affirmation, and empathy. Leaders lean on other leaders for collaboration, and they benefit from one another’s district level expertise, perspectives, and talents. In the context of formal professional networks, the presence of relationships with ESC personnel facilitated more engagement with superintendents. Larger, statewide organizations can increase relevance and effective interaction through more intentional efforts to make connections with their small and rural membership. Within their school community, superintendents relied on relationships and rapport with stakeholders to strengthen their ability to lead. Students remained their primary concern and focus, and superintendents leveraged the opportunity to establish new relationships and worked together to overcome the adversity imposed by the pandemic. Superintendents and stakeholders can contribute to the success of their districts by being well informed, open minded, and collaborative. The resiliency of schools and the mission of education depends on it, and the students on their campuses deserve it. References Barber, G. E. (2010). Networking of north and west Texas superintendents (Publication No. 3417732) [Doctoral dissertation, University of North Texas]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global. Copeland, J. (2013). One head–many hats: Expectations of a rural superintendents. The Qualitative Report, 18(77), 1–15. University of Northern Colorado. http://www. Creswell, J. W., & Poth, C. N. (2018). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches. (4th ed.). Sage Publications. Executive Order GA-08, 86th R. S. (Texas, 2020). https:// Greg%20 Abbott/2020/GA-08.pdf Fette, J. J. (2018). Superintendents who network: What do they value about participation in a peer network. (Publication No. 11005296) [Doctoral dissertation, The Ohio State University]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global. Forner, M., Bierlein-Palmer, L., & Reeves, P. (2012). Leadership practices of effective superintendents: Connections to Waters and Marzano’s leadership correlates. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 27(8), 1–13. files/2019-08/27-8.pdf Greer, S. L., King, E. J., & Massard da Fonseca, E. (2021). Introduction: Explaining pandemic response. In S. L. Greer, E. J. King, E. Massard da Fonseca, & A. Peralta-Santos (Eds.), Coronavirus politics: The comparative politics and policy of COVID-19. https://doi. org/10.3998/mpub.11927713 Hoyle, J. R., Bjork, L. G., Collier, V., & Glass, T. (2004). The Mickie Jackson, EdD