Yesterday I wrote about the Snapshot of the Superintendency produced by The New York State Council of Superintendents (The Council). Today I’d like to talk a little about what the demographics say about the future of educational leadership.
One of the concerns raised in the report is the issue of turnover. It’s difficult for schools to improve if the leadership changes every two or three years. New programs may be begun and abandoned; faculty may become wary of committing to change that may not be sustained. Turnover is particularly hard on small schools (under 1000) that are often seen as “stepping stones” for superintendents wishing to eventually move to larger districts. In addition, superintendent searches may be costly if districts use an outside consultant and may result in general consternation no matter how smoothly the search itself goes.
To counteract turnover, the Snapshot reveals a trend for experienced superintendents to be offered longer contracts and incentives for longevity. A second trend seems to be a greater interest in hiring from within. Indeed, I know of some school boards that have avoided a search altogether by selecting the next superintendent from within the administrative ranks (often the high school principal) as soon as the sitting superintendent announced his or her intentions to retire.
Of course, one of the major determinants in how long a superintendent stays in one district is the Board of Education. Superintendents rated five out of six boards as “effective” or “highly effective.” Superintendents who rated their boards “ineffective” also were (unsurprisingly) more likely to indicate stress and dissatisfaction with their job.
A final observation: There is little in our training or experience before becoming a superintendent to really prepare us for the job. Superintendents report they generally felt competent in curriculum and instruction before taking the position. While they believe they had some knowledge of business/finance, personnel, board relations, and political advocacy, the data suggest that these skills are essentially learned on the job.
The Snapshot concludes that current conditions will continue – the demand for quality superintendents will remain high and the supply will remain low. Of course, true quality leadership has always been in short supply, but now is certainly the time for those rare individuals to step forward and make a difference in every state.