School & District Management

Finding Home-Grown Superintendents Difficult

By Dakarai I. Aarons — March 01, 2010 2 min read
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When the Newton, Mass., school board met recently to pick a new superintendent, none of its candidates were even working in Massachusetts, The Boston Globe noted.

Its pick, David Fleishman, spent the last five years as superintendent in Chappaqua, N.Y., (where Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton have a home). Why is it so difficult for the Bay State—and other states—to find good candidates at home?

“Today, the business of being a school superintendent is very different than it was 10 or 15 years ago,’' Paul Andrews, professional development director for the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, told The Globe.

“The ‘local blood’ problem is a lot bigger than some people think,” he said. “Very few districts have candidates coming up from the inside. You have a lot fewer people that want to move into the demands of the job.’'

In many districts of significant size, the school board has tended to hire from the outside, with few if any internal candidates applying. Those searches, normally conducted by national search firms, cost tens of thousands of dollars. In some instances, state school board associations will conduct the searches for smaller districts.

But in the case of two recent urban superintendent hirings, both in Minnesota, the boards there hired school administrators with extensive experience inside the school districts they were appointed to lead.

Bernadeia Johnson, currently the deputy superintendent of Minneapolis schools, was appointed last month to take over for the retiring Bill Green this fall. The school board abandoned plans for an outside search and decided to hire Johnson instead, noting that she is the architect of the district’s current strategic plan and could provide the stability needed to continue the work.

In St. Paul, Valeria Silva was hired in December to take over the reins of that school district. She has extensive experience as a teacher, principal, and administrator in that school district, including a stint managing its English-language learner program.

But such appointments are the exception today. As Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, told me recently, the increasingly high-stakes nature of the job makes some qualified candidates think twice, especially when the pay differential among superintendents, principals, and teachers is not that much in many places.

What incentives can be created to get more homegrown people to apply? Are sitting superintendents doing enough to build capacity in their top staffers to ensure a smooth transition of leadership? Does the school board habit of hiring national or state search firms make internal candidates more wary of applying?

I’m interested in your thoughts. Share them in comments here or e-mail me.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.