PhD in Public Policy

Becky Foley ’15

becky folye

Career

Current position: Superintendent of Schools, RSU 5: Durham, Freeport, Pownal

Foley has served as the chief academic officer of the Portland Public School District and as the assistant superintendent in RSU 52, a school district in central Maine. Prior to those roles, she was an elementary school principal for thirteen years.

Degrees:

  • PhD in Public Policy with a concentration in Educational Leadership and Policy, University of Southern Maine, 2015
  • MS in Educational Administration, University of Southern Maine,1997
  • BS in Education - Literature, University of Maine in Farmington, 1990 

Memberships:

  • Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development 
  • Phi Kappa Phi - Member and Officer

Dissertation

Title: Breaking Barriers to Achieve the Superintendency

Abstract: The purpose of this dissertation was to explore the phenomenon of the external and internal barriers that exist for women administrators in Maine seeking to reach the school superintendency. During the 2014-2015 school year in Maine, females comprised only 21 percent of all superintendents. While there is research about the shortage of superintendents nationwide, there is scant research from the female perspective. This research provided insights from women’s perspectives about why gender inequality exists at the superintendent level in education in the state of Maine.

Through the use of phenomenological interviews, this qualitative research study focused on the views of six female participants who were administrators in Maine during the 2014-2015 school year. This study was designed to uncover the barriers to be overcome, and the supports needed for more women to enter the superintendency. Within the design of this phenomenological interview study, the six female administrators were divided into three subgroups: two current superintendents, two aspiring superintendents, and two non-aspiring superintendents. Each of the participants met with the researcher and completed either two or three individual interviews. Data gathered from those interviews were analyzed to answer the following questions: (1) What do female administrators perceive as external barriers to achieving the superintendency?  (2) What do female administrators perceive as internal barriers to achieving the superintendency?  (3) What do female administrators perceive to be the needed supports for women to access and be successful in the superintendency in Maine?

Findings were explored through a research framework created for this study based upon barrier research. Conclusions drawn from this exploration revealed there are multiple barriers preventing female administrators from reaching superintendency. There is strong evidence of the following external barriers: (1) cultural expectations, (2) being place bound, (3) gender bias, (4) board bias, (5)  non-support from other women, and (6) lack of mentors. Evidence exists for the following three internal barriers: (1) perfectionism, (2) lack of self-confidence, and (3) choice. Included in this study are recommendations and possible policy implications to support more women in attaining a superintendency, and to balance the inequality that currently exists.