Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education/Leadership in Urban Schools

First Advisor

Francine Menashy

Second Advisor

Zeena Zakharia

Third Advisor

Stephanie Yuhl


This study examines the relationship among public discourse, power and leadership for women superintendents in Boston Public Schools. For this qualitative study, I use a feminist poststructural discourse analysis (FPDA) to examine newspaper articles from The Boston Globe from 1991 to 2016. Through a FPDA, I illuminate the ways in which women superintendents have been discursively produced amidst neoliberal educational reform movements. In this study, I focus on how the superintendent’s role was conceptualized as a male endeavor in The Boston Globe, and the implications of this for current educational leaders.

Two major discursive stages frame the study’s time period: Superintendent as Political Strategist Focused on Excellence and Superintendent as Collaborator (Brunner, Grogan, & Bjork, 2002). In the first discursive stage, superintendents focused navigating complex city politics and politicians invested in the quality of educational programs. During the second discursive stage, superintendents had to work with rather than over others. Superintendents in larger urban communities needed to collaborate and engage communities of color.

This study examines four superintendents: Lois Harrison Jones (1991-1995), Thomas Payzant (1995-2006), Carol Johnson (2007-2013), and Tommy Chang (2015-present). The findings fall into three categories: (1) superintendent as a capable leader; (2) superintendent as a politician or educator; and (3) superintendent as a community ally. For each category, gendered and racialized discourses play a key role in the superintendent’s positioning. This study suggests that the discursive stages are insufficient in the depiction of a superintendent in local media. Intersections of race and gender, situated in the discursive stage’s context, provide a more nuanced analysis. By understanding this intersection, superintendents can identify how these discourses impact their subject positions and use this understanding in their practice. Lastly, the analysis shows a need for a new discursive stage focused on the prominence of neoliberalism in educational reforms in order to fully address educational leadership in the twenty-first century.