A wide variety of leaders have shaped public schools throughout US history. They include such remarkable figures as Amelia Hunt de Garcia, elected Apache County Superintendent (AZ) the year that the nation’s women won full suffrage (Adams and Sloan 1930); Dr. Ulysses Byas, a gifted. high school principal in Gainesville, GA and member of vibrant state and national networks of leaders of Black, segregated schools (Siddle Walker 2009); the irrepressible and brilliant political strategist Margaret Haley, leader of the powerful Chicago Teachers’ Federation during the early twentieth century (Rousmaniere 2005); and, of course, the widely-studied Horace Mann, first Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education and pivotally influential proponent of common schools (Messerli 1972). Education leadership has taken many different forms as well. Some have led schools in underserved communities, others have presided over those exploding with growth. Many have worked within the conventional bounds of institutional practice; a notable few, however, have pressed those limits, resisted them, or acted completely outside them. Given these and other variations, public education leaders may be described as having in common their willingness to take responsibility for an organization that systematically helps students create meaningful lives within their local and broad social contexts.

With this inclusive definition of educational leadership in mind, this entry will offer an overview of the history of public education leadership in the USA. First, though, the historiography of the field will be examined to better situate the stories that have been told about educational leadership over time. Then a chronological summary of critical developments will follow. Though the primary focus will be on individuals who have held formal school administrative positions, those who have provided other important forms of leadership will be examined as well. Rather than following a conventional narrative of how educational leadership has evolved as a profession, this account will explore some of the complex social struggles that have shaped it. It will reveal: a) those who have endeavoured to normalize practice and thought as well as define who leads; b) those on the outside of these normalized boundaries, but who wish to join and claim a share of power; and c) those who have operated in resistance to or outside these normalized constraints.