School & District Management

Leadership

March 21, 2001 2 min read

A Profile of Superintendents: To hear the media tell it, superintendents hate their jobs, work autocratically, and end up getting canned. But, in a forthcoming paper, Thomas E. Glass found just the opposite.

The picture that emerges from Mr. Glass’ study of the profession is one of relative stability and contentment. Mr. Glass, a former superintendent and now a professor of education leadership at the University of Memphis, polled 2,262 of the nation’s nearly 14,000 district superintendents.

Nearly 57 percent of the superintendents expressed “considerable” fulfillment with the job, and another 37 percent reported “moderate” satisfaction. About 69 percent said they seek citizen participation “all the time” or “frequently.” And 54 percent had served between six and 15 years, while another 17 percent had worked even longer.

At the same time, though, not all media perceptions about superintendents are, well, perceptions. One view shared by the media and many of the nation’s best- regarded superintendents is that the profession is in “crisis.”

Mr. Glass’ basis for that view was a poll of 175 “superintendent leaders,” those judged by their peers as outstanding. He found that 71.5 percent agreed or strongly agreed that a crisis exists. Only 16 percent, by contrast, said there was no crisis.

The main problems with the superintendent’s post, in the eyes of those school leaders, are poor relationships with school boards (64 percent) and long work hours (53 percent).

To remedy the problem, the group of top leaders believes that superintendents should have less paperwork to do. “The problem is insignificant demands placed on their time,” Glass said. “There’s a lot of bureaucratic requirements, so they have to do a ton of paperwork.” More specifically, Glass said, the group believes that school boards need to be reshaped.

The study, which is in draft form but will be published in the next few months by the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, also found that:

•Some 92 percent of the 2,046 superintendents who responded were married.

•Nearly 85 percent are men. Nearly 85 percent are men.

•Only 26 percent said they were hired to be instructional leaders. More than 40 percent were hired for their personal characteristics, and another 26 percent to be “change agents.”

•More than 55 percent described themselves as politically moderate, and 32 percent as conservative.

•Fifty-six percent said they had left their previous job as superintendent to move to a larger district.

•Sixty percent said the stress of the job was “very great” or “considerable.”

—Mark Stricherz

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A version of this article appeared in the March 21, 2001 edition of Education Week

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