Outstanding district-level superintendents are distinguished from their peers by these three attributes, according to a recent study: experience in working as high-level central-office administrators, more graduate study, and greater involvement in professional activities.
The study was conducted for the American Association of School Administrators by Joan Gibson Burnham, director of the Texas lead Center, which trains administrators. It analyzed answers from both a random sample of 915 superintendents and a group of 93 district chiefs identified as having unusual effectiveness.
A greater proportion of "effective" superintendents were found to hold graduate degrees and other credentials than the "typical" group. Sixty-two percent had completed a doctorate, compared with 34 percent of the random group.
Typical superintendents spent an average of 8.4 years in the classroom, while those designated as effective averaged 5.3 years. Similarly, superintendents in the typical group served an average of 9.6 years as principals or assistant principals, but effective chiefs averaged 4.2 years.
The effective superintendents were much more likely to have held high-level jobs in the central office, however. The most dramatic differences in such experience were found in non-instructional positions, which 31 percent of effective superintendents and only 13 percent of typical superintendents had held.
"Analysis clearly supports the notion that high-level central-office experience is frequently a contributing factor to later effectiveness as a superintendent," said Ms. Burnham, who conducted the survey as a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin.
Copies are available for $9 each from Ms. Burnham, Texas lead Center, 406 E. 11th St., Austin, Tex., 78701.
The Iowa school administrators' association is concerned that 69 of the state's 431 school districts have new superintendents this fall.
In a typical year, according to Gaylord Tyron, executive director of School Administrators of Iowa, about 40 districts hire new superintendents.
"I think when you have significant turnover, you don't have any continuity in terms of programs and services," he said, "and that concerns us."
Mr. Tyron attributed the 16 percent turnover rate this year to a variety of factors, including a new state retirement plan that allows superintendents to retire at age 57 if they have at least 32 years' experience. Before July 1, superintendents were eligible to retire at age 62.
Some superintendents also may be leaving Iowa in search of better retirement benefits, he also suggested.--ab