Conference Daily Online

AASA's award-winning newsletter, providing daily coverage of events, photos and video clips of the conference.
Close this search box.

Is There a Superintendent Shortage?

I shared the breakfast table with two education leaders from Mississippi. Both were Cabinet-level leaders and both were excited to be here at the AASA conference to network and share ideas with leaders from across the country. My informal survey has led me to conclude that the number one reason people flock to AASA's annual national conference is the appeal of interacting with leaders from all across the country.

I enjoyed hearing about the current state of education in Mississippi (and so many other places these last few days). It turns out that while our problems may have a contextual flavor, they taste pretty much the same. While the narrative on the modern superintendency may lead the casual observer to believe that taste is bitter, the truth is educators at the top of the pyramid relish this opportunity to lead the way through today's thorny education landscape. That's why these two leaders from Mississippi are excited to be here. However, they also acknowledge that the superintendency may not be their next stop, given everything they have experienced these last few years.

Superintendent turnover has gained national headlines since the pandemic, as this EducationWeek article from August, 2023 highlights. In my Southern California County, since I started six years ago, twenty-three of the twenty-four school districts will have turned over the superintendency at least once when the 2024-25 school year begins, and eighteen of them in the last three years. The word exodus best describes it and it's not just California.

Is there a superintendent shortage? According to the EdSource article, Salaries, Benefits Increase as School Superintendents Become Harder to Find, superintendent candidates are in the driver’s seat in California, where openings are plenty and fewer veteran candidates are interested. The result is higher salaries, better perks and less experience required.

The problem is, many school boards are not be in a position (real or perceived) to allow a less experienced leader to grow into the job, given the community pressure school boards are under. One-, two-, and three-year tenures have become more commonplace. The metaphor, building the plane while flying it, may aptly describe the challenge an inexperienced superintendent faces. However, in my opinion as a veteran superintendent having served three school districts, building the plane while flying it develops the primary characteristics necessary to lead school districts today: freedom from constraints (you don't know what you don't know), intentionality, and learning from your mistakes. Perfection is not required (just ask Peter Stiepleman).

There are well over 50,000 books with the word “leadership” in the title on the Amazon shelves. Many are available to purchase this week or even learn about first hand from the author. But the truth is there is no secret to leadership or to the superintendency. If you have good character and you like to share, you'll figure out the rest. During this period of less experienced superintendent candidates, school boards will need to prioritize character and exercise patience if education is to grow the next generation of its leaders during this transitionary period in our history.

Share this story
Related Posts