BOOK BY WESTERN PROFESSORS 
EXAMINES WNC SCHOOL LEADERS
McFadden and Smith
Anna T. McFadden (left), head of the department of educational leadership and foundations at Western, and Penny Smith, retired former department head, are co-authors of the newly published book “The Social Construction of Educational Leadership: Southern Appalachian Ceilings.”

CULLOWHEE – A new book co-written by the current and former heads of the department of educational leadership and foundations at Western Carolina University examines the unique characteristics and behaviors of school district leaders in Western North Carolina.

The book “The Social Construction of Educational Leadership: Southern Appalachian Ceilings” is based on research and interviews with school district leaders across the region conducted by Anna T. McFadden, current department head, and Penny Smith, retired former department head.

The authors will sign copies of their book, published by Peter Lang Publishers, at a reception at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva from 4 until 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11.

For the book, McFadden and Smith conducted a four-year study of WNC senior educational leaders in grades kindergarten through 12, using in-depth interviews with paired samples of 24 male and female system leaders. They also surveyed additional administrators and school board members.

“Initially, we were interested in the impact of race and gender on the selection and behavior of school system leaders in the region,” McFadden said. “However, the more data we gathered, the more convinced we became of the importance of place, both in decisions about who becomes a school leader and how those leaders behave professionally.”

The authors describe the changes in a regional leadership system grounded in race, gender and geographic preferences that date back to colonial systems of deference. “What we found was a pattern of expanding access to these positions that emerged over time,” said Smith. “Once, the top system positions were closed to everyone except local white males. Today, access has expanded and job expectations have shifted from a business-building focus to enhancing student performance success.”

McFadden and Smith attribute the varying pace of change to such factors as existing demographic diversity, economic patterns, access to transportation outlets, population size, in-migration rates and unique historical experiences.

McFadden and Smith maintain that today's school district leaders in the region primarily practice conservative leadership, reinforced by the current accountability climate. “Regional superintendents and their associates are politically astute individuals who know and respond to the expectations of their communities appropriately,” McFadden said.

The stories regional system leaders told to the authors reveal a high ethic of care about their fellow human beings and a high degree of empathy. “The key to success is their ability to present themselves, even when they are not, as insiders,” McFadden said.

However, academic success might not translate into continuing the power and prestige once associated with the superintendency. “Historically, when occupations in our country cease to be dominated by white males, they decline in status, in salary, and become more subject to external micro-management,” Smith said.

Chapter titles include Southern Appalachian Ceilings; Cracker Barrel Wisdom: The Geographic Context; Good Ol' Boys and Girls: The Professional Context; Transforming Bubba; Appalachian Steel Magnolias; Carpetbaggers: Being “From Off”; Ceilings in Transition; and Tripping at the Tipping Point.

Selected findings from the study previously have been presented around the nation at the American Association of Educational Research, the National Council of Professors of Education Administration and the Southern Regional Council on Education Administration.

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CUTLINE

Anna T. McFadden (left), head of the department of educational leadership and foundations at Western Carolina University, and Penny Smith, retired former department head, are co-authors of the newly published book “The Social Construction of Educational Leadership: Southern Appalachian Ceilings.” The authors will sign copies of their book at a reception at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva from 4 until 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11.


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