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Major Turnover of Talent at Top Has AASA’s Incoming President Turning Sights to Cultivating Next Generation of Superintendents

gladys cruz on stage in front of projected photo of kids
President-elect Gladys Cruz at Saturday's General Session of the 2023 National Conference on Education. Photo by Jimmy Minichello.

Gladys Cruz, incoming president of the association, took up the mounting concern over who will be leading public school systems in the near term during her remarks Saturday at the 3rd General Session of the AASA National Conference on Education in San Antonio, Texas.

Cruz, officially president-elect until she assumes the top elected post in July, spent much of her 10-minute presentation painting a landscape of unprecedented turnover in the superintendent ranks, drawing on national survey data and her own close-to-home observations from the region where she works.

“Let me bring this to my tri-county region in upstate New York – something I am most familiar with. Nine of my region’s 22 superintendents have left since the start of the pandemic,” said Cruz, district superintendent of Questar III BOCES in Castleton, N.Y, in a prepared version of her speech. “This will grow to 11 superintendents, or 50 percent, by June. Moreover, only four superintendents remain in the same job since 2015 – and one of these will soon retire.”

She said members of the AASA Executive Committee reported to her about an annual turnover rate of 18 percent among superintendents in Maine and Oregon’s 65 percent turnover over the past three years.

“While this data is by no means scientific in nature, it suggests that we need to prepare, energize and sustain the next generation of superintendents – those who will lead our districts and this association in the years ahead,” she said at the concluding General Session.

Cruz then announced that her presidency beginning in July would carry this theme for the coming year: “Leading in a New Era: New Challenges, New Approaches.” She pledges to help lay the foundation for new and aspiring superintendents.

She noted that AASA has a long history of supporting sitting superintendents, and this year, 85 individuals are participating in three superintendent certification programs and another 153 individuals are part of six Aspiring Superintendent Academies nationally overseen by AASA.

“These numbers, combined with the turnover data, suggest that we need to do more as an association and individuals,” Cruz said.

Drawing on her own professional path, Cruz admitted “if it wasn’t for those who encouraged me, I may be speaking at the American Dental Association Conference in Orlando later this year, instead of being here with you now.”

She said she would always “remember when my superintendent tapped me, and two others from an organization of over 600 employees to join the leadership team more than 20 years ago. This created three future leaders within our organization, including two superintendents and a deputy superintendent.”

Cruz said she hoped AASA would ensure such opportunities are promoted to the next wave of school leaders. “It is important to find this next generation because some may not realize that this is their path.” 
(Jay P. Goldman is editor-in-chief of Conference Daily Online and editor of AASA’s School Administrator magazine.)

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