Searching for More School Superintendents

Certainly there are plenty of experienced educators who are capable of filling the role of school superintendent. So how come it seems no one is interested?

Insiders report that higher demands are being placed on the shoulders of the superintendent. High turnover has created several openings across North America just waiting to be filled by strong leaders with visions for change.

"The superintendent has a dual role of chief executive officer and chief educational officer," says Greg Thomas. He is a superintendent and the central director of an organization for school superintendents.

"The superintendent is viewed as the single employee of the board, with all other employees being answerable to [him or her]," says Thomas.

Superintendents know well the responsibilities that come with their job title. And most are comfortable with them. Still, a frustrating trend is occurring.

"The job has become more difficult. High-stakes accountability places the job of the superintendent and the school principal in jeopardy if test scores don't go up. Yet no new authority has been handed to those individuals," says Bob Wells. He is the executive director of the Association of California School Administrators.

"Further," he says, "very few additional resources have been provided. So we've seen increased turnover and fewer applicants for these jobs."

An article in Education Week says that in big cities, the average tenure of superintendents is just 28 months.

Peg Portscheller is the executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives. "There is already quite a shortage of administrators in Colorado, and it is predicted to deepen," she says.

Until more educators are willing to take that giant step forward into the superintendent role, the shortage trend may continue for some time.

"The jobs have to become more doable," says Wells. "Or salaries need to increase dramatically, so that the reward is [equal to] the risk. Either one of those solutions, or a combination of the two, will take several years to put in place."

Most superintendents are teachers who have climbed up the ranks to principal or other leadership positions. Most hold a master's or doctorate degree, says Ken Dropko. He is a superintendent.

"I believe a superintendent should be someone who understands [teaching], and understands kids and staff," says Dropko. He also says that leadership needs to be nurtured in teachers. That way, more will be prepared for possible superintendency.

The teachers' magazine, Aviso, says that educators can demonstrate their leadership skills in many ways. They can become involved in curriculum development, lead peer helper groups, sit on school advisory councils and contribute to local union organization.

Thomas believes that anyone thinking of becoming a superintendent must:

  • Have classroom and principal experience
  • Have public relations and people skills
  • Enjoy working with the public, parents and students
  • Be willing to work effectively in areas not defined as clearly right or wrong
  • Be able to work with the media, and value being in the public eye
  • Be able to make decisions and stand by them
  • Be able to resolve disputes
  • Be able to develop successful hiring practices
  • Be able to manage a team environment

"There are lots of opportunities coming forward," says Dropko. "The time is right for people to make an impact on public education."

And there are also rich personal rewards. The superintendents surveyed said that their work was challenging, rewarding and gratifying, especially in building curricula, helping students and contributing to society. And superintendents can earn nearly $156,000 yearly -- good pay in the field of education.

It will take some changes before educators go running for top leadership positions. But right now, opportunities have never been better for people with strong leadership skills and a great vision for the future of public school education.


American Association of School Administrators
Includes salary stats for school superintendents

Education Week
Get the news from the world of education

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