The Problem Might Not Be Finding a Superintendent, It’s Having a Superintendent

From what I read the average urban school superintendent stays at a job, on average, only 2.75 years.

A 2000 Time Magazine piece on the subject is entitled “Is Superintendent….A Job For a Superhero?”, then goes on to say:

“The pool of applicants is shrinking, leaving millions of America’s poorest kids–in cities that include New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Baltimore and Las Vegas–in school systems run by the managerial equivalent of a substitute teacher.”

A 2003 Wallace Foundation funded study by the “Center on Reinventing Public Education” entitled “An Impossible Job? The View From the Superintendent’s Chair” interviews 140 current and past large district superintendents and concludes that “the structure of the position virtually precludes them from doing what they were hired to do”. One interviewed superintendent sums up the findings of the study in his remark that “the superintendency as now structured is undoable.”

The above is just a metaphorical snowflake of an avalanche of white papers, research and op/ed pieces one can read on the subject of the urban superintendent.

My reading of the above and other sources in the last 24 hours has left me with one question regarding the hiring of a new APS Superintendent: Why should we care?

I appreciate and commend the diligence of the search process (although I still think Linda Sink is getting the job, and that the Board decision to let Beth Everitt out of her contract early and appoint Sink “interim” was just about the stupidest decision ever made by a Board known for its stupid decisions).

But after all these public meetings, hiring advisory board sessions, job-recruitment pitches, preliminary interviews, we conclude the process with a veritable NBA All-Star Weekend of public meet & greets and still more interviews.

And for what? So we can hire somebody for a couple of years at $27ok to do an impossible job and then have them leave or get rid of them in some ugly professional death ritual?

And yes, I’m am saying this in part after seeing and reading about the six APS finalists. I could be wrong, but I don’t see any superheroes in the bunch. I do see a number of folks who will very likely stick around for right at 2.75 years.

As the overwhelming problems of the superintendent/school board framework aren’t a secret, I’m hoping significant discussion about alternatives to this framework took place during the advisory board meetings. In a brief review around the ‘Net I don’t see any record of such a discussion, and would love to hear the details if one or more, in fact, occurred.

It’s late in the game, granted, but there’s still time to ask a few questions before having Dr. 2.75 Years sign on the $270k dotted line.

1. Is there a more workable arrangement for school district success than the “unworkable” Superintendent-Board system?
2. Many scoff at the idea of splitting APS up, but wouldn’t doing that now make sense and provide at least a slightly better chance of success on the part of a traditional “superintendent”?
3. Or should we keep APS intact, ditch the current job of superintendent, and really install “site-based management” in a way that empowers individual schools and helps reduce what almost everyone agrees is the biggest problem with APS, and large school districts in general. its bureaucracy?

Those are just a few questions, and, to be honest, every time I go back over the list of finalists for the job the list of questions just gets longer. Oh well, maybe we can get back to these questions the next time around in 2011, or 2014, or 2017….

P.S.: Essay Round

Elected superintendent?
Discuss. Cite examples.

Bonus Question (a blast from the past): Feudal Prince Marty runs the schools?
Discuss. Cite examples.

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4 thoughts on “The Problem Might Not Be Finding a Superintendent, It’s Having a Superintendent

  1. Perhaps the Superintendent pool is shrinking because they just keep shuffling the same people.Bring in some new blood – Let a Principal (who wants it)try it. Lets give them a 2 yr. contract with the option to renew.- Could it really get any worse than with a seasoned, shuffling, job hopping Sup. or assist. Sups.?Renee

  2. Speaking of Supt. roulette, when Gary Norris got the job in Sarasota, one of the other six applicants was Linda(?) Eldridge from Aiken County. Ms. Eldridge stayed on in Aiken until retirement, and was replaced by Beth Everitt.

  3. The problem has hit home in Bomb Town, where the applicant pool for the superintendent’s job is more shallow than the gene pool in rural Appalachia.

  4. Elected Superintendent?Cons:1. Virtually guarantees that all candidates will be “from here” as the typical threshold requirement for elective office is to be a qualified voter in the jurisdiction. In this instance, APS boundaries.2. Qualifications for elective office are typically few and always objective. While an Ed.D. or other professional certification could be a requirement, leaves little room for subjective screening for ballot access.3. Creates a jurisdictional nightmare between elected Supt. and elected Board of Ed. Who is in charge?4. Do you really want a Supt. out there soliciting “campaign contributions”?Pros:1. Only if, by having an elected Supt., we can eliminate the Board of Ed.

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