The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to explore the self-reported personal perspectives of special education directors in K-12 urban school districts in Southern California. Over 20,000 administrators oversee the delivery of special education services in the United States and the demand for such leadership exceeds the supply of qualified candidates (Crockett, 2007). This study is significant because a gap exists in the professional literature concerning the leadership of central office level special education directors. Four research questions addressed the following areas: whether special education directors use aspects of transformational leadership in their roles, beliefs and values concerning special education and how those impact leadership styles, unique challenges encountered in their work, and practices and strategies implemented to achieve positive outcomes for students and staff. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with each of six special education directors for data collection. The 13 interview questions were designed to elicit study participants’ candid reflections of their daily work experiences. The interviews were electronically recorded and transcribed for data analysis. Six key themes emerged from the interviews: charismatic leadership, intellectual stimulation, special education funding, litigation, shared responsibility for students with disabilities, and the types of support needed by special education directors. Bass’s (1985) transformational leadership theory was used as a conceptual framework for this study. Transformational leadership qualities are essential attributes for special education directors who must address the changing landscape of federal and state requirements amidst chronic levels of under-funding and litigation. Findings of the study yielded four conclusions. Study participants: use aspects of transformational leadership when implementing change, espouse beliefs and values that are congruent with their leadership styles, believe all children should be treated equitably and have opportunities to maximize their learning, and experience high levels of responsibility for factors that are beyond their control. The researcher recommends a future study in which district superintendents, cabinet members, and school site principals are interviewed for the purpose of juxtaposing perspectives of special education directors with perspectives of other central office administrators with regard to the various challenges, strengths, needs, responsibilities, and concerns of those working in the field of special education.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Educational leadership, administration, and policy; School administrators -- California -- Research; Special education educators -- California; Leadership -- Case studies

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Barner, Robert R.;