Student Profiles

Vincent Leone '14

Mentor:
Beth Bailey
Title of Project:
Iron Will and Iron Hand: The Triumphs and Travails of Philadelphia School Superintendent Constance E. Clayton 1982-1993

The urban school superintendent is a dynamic role. This demanding position requires an individual to balance multiple political and educational interests extending beyond their school district. In light of these challenges, select superintendents throughout recent history are labeled as successful. In my research I examine a specific school district and one urban education leader widely understood to be successful. I evaluate the tenure of former superintendent Constance E. Clayton, who served the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) from 1982-1993. I present a case study of Dr. Clayton’s superintendency reported by local and national media outlets in order to evaluate her public perception. In this thesis, I strive to answer the question motivating my research: how was former superintendent Clayton able to craft education policy and mobilize constituencies? I argue she was successful in crafting policy and mobilizing a broad set of constituencies due to the sorts of authority she claimed, in that she was a district insider, former teacher, Philadelphia native, and the first African American and female superintendent for SDP. The role of personal agency is an additional factor, as Clayton’s personality and political deftness were instrumental to her perceived success and unusually long tenure. Granted the intractability of urban education issues, this thesis offers particular qualities that are beneficial for the role of school superintendents.