Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Stratton, Susan

Degree Name

Ed.D. (Doctor of Education)

Legacy Department

Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations


School districts--Illinois--Management; School superintendents--Illinois--Attitudes


This research study examines the servant-leadership characteristics expressed by public school superintendents of high-performing, high-poverty elementary school districts. The degree to which public schools and public school districts are being held accountable has increased in recent years. The No Child Left Behind Act was enacted in part to close the achievement gap between the different subgroups that are identified in the act itself. Students who are classified as low income or high poverty have consistently performed below the levels of students not classified as low income or high poverty. The superintendent, in demonstrating servant-leadership characteristics, can have a positive impact on the achievement of all students, including those from high poverty. A phenomenological study of eight public school superintendents was completed through personal interviews. The superintendents selected led kindergarten through eighth-grade public school districts with 50% or more of their students classified as low income and 60% or more of their students meeting or exceeding state standards on this midwestern state’s standardized test. Transcripts of the interviews were coded based on 15 servant-leadership characteristics. The servant-leadership characteristics, identified by Spears and Walker, were listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people building community, sense of calling, love, shared power, integrity, and serving. The study was informed by the writings of Greenleaf, Spears, DePree, Wheatley, Bennis and others. Based on the research results, servant-leadership characteristics are identified in the superintendents of this study. All of the participating superintendents expressed the servant-leadership characteristics of listening and shared power. Three of the eight superintendents expressed five or fewer servant-leadership characteristics. The manifestation of servant-leadership characteristics may contribute to highacademic achievement by students of poverty. Recommendations include further research on servant-leadership characteristics among superintendents of low-achieving schools and research on servant-leadership characteristics of superintendents of schools not considered low income. Perhaps, through comparisons and contrasts of the expressed servant-leadership characteristics, the most important attributes of servant leadership could emerge and be utilized in leadership education and training.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [102]-107).


viii, 112 pages




Northern Illinois University

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