When Looking For the Best Qualities for a Superintendent
Dr. Anna Bucy
When looking for the best qualities for a superintendent, a board need look no further than the superintendent evaluation instruments and handbook available from the Ohio School Boards Association and other well-researched sources. Generally speaking, a school superintendent should be an educator with clear systems-thinking skills. Gone are the days when a district administrator only needed to focus on balls, beans, and buses. District leaders for the 21st century must have a firm grasp on the global marketplace in which the district competes, the myriad stakeholders in the community the district serves, the curricular challenges of the district, and the effective (if not creative) management of the balls, beans, and buses.
Modern superintendents must have a proven track record of academic achievement, which is measured by far more than any standardized test scores. What is the candidate’s history with creating innovative programs for students, professional development for teachers and staff, and with seeking financial support? If the district has specific needs, as Greenon Local does, with respect to funding building projects and operations, the search committee needs to examine the candidate’s history along those lines and whether the candidate has ideas to bring to the district. In short, has the candidate done his/her homework?
Having non-educators evaluating whether a candidate for superintendent has all the necessary skills to be successful is a difficult endeavor. A key issue is that the board looks not at what they as individuals want in the superintendent, but what the district needs—what the students need—to be successful in the changing world.
While it is true that the school board, as representatives of the entire community, sets the mission and vision of the district, the superintendent must be able to implement that mission and vision in every decision he or she makes. A district’s current strategic plan should serve as the guide for any superintendent candidate looking to apply for work, and for boards evaluating candidates. Greenon Local has not publicly evaluated or updated its strategic plan in two years.
Hiring a superintendent means looking for someone to lead into the future—someone with clear leadership skills, a record of goal setting and accomplishing, and a focus on personal lifelong learning. Successful boards look for a superintendent that respects tradition, but is not bound by the way things have always been done when those methods may not move a district forward. This means, of course, that boards must also respect the path that brought the district where it is, but realize that business as usual may not take a district where it needs to go.
Superintendent candidates must also evaluate the board and district to which they are applying for work. A candidate must determine whether the board members work together well, whether there is much conflict within the board or district, what positive and negative information is available about the district, and whether the board seems to be actively addressing district needs. Any candidate that does not ask questions of the board or other search committee and does not appear to have researched the district is not a serious candidate.
In a small community like Greenon Local, the superintendent must be a working superintendent—no time to just delegate and dismiss. A superintendent must be skilled at building bridges within the community with stakeholder groups and within the schools with staff and faculty. Being a superintendent is a very difficult job that requires copious, open communication, respect of self and others, collaboration skills, and the ability to align and articulate mission, vision and goals across all areas of the district.