What’s a Superintendent Worth? 2

I began last month’s board work session on superintendent contract deliberation by saying that just because we are the fourth largest district in the state does not mean we have to be in fourth place with regard to salary and benefits. The requirements of the job locally are no different than in the state’s largest districts. These jobs require a very special person and are exceptionally demanding of time, energy, and spirit.

I also said that I wanted to make it as difficult as possible for the superintendent to leave us if he got an attractive job offer elsewhere, which I know is inevitable. To those who worry about public perception of salary raises, let me say that I’m far more concerned about what knowledgeable patrons would think if we let our supe get away. That he has said he wants to stay here is reassuring, but not to be taken for granted.

It would be unpardonable false economy on the board’s part to skimp on the superintendent’s salary because, dollar for dollar, that is the most powerful expenditure we can make in terms of positive results for our school children, and the least expensive in terms of the return on investment. That money would not be sufficient make any difference at all in class size or any other quality of the school child’s experience. It is well-spent to attract and retain a leader other districts covet.

The school superintendent position presents one of the great leadership challenges in our country today and partially explains why there is a nation-wide shortage of superintendent candidates, and an even more acute shortage of highly desirable candidates. The organizational and public demands of the position require an individual with exemplary communication and collaboration skills, combined with bed-rock honesty, a firm belief in transparency, unshakable integrity, and the ability to learn quickly from mistakes and make corrections, which is a sign a still another elusive trait, humility. (Walking on water is also nice, but optional.)

The quality of leadership provided by a school superintendent affects everything from the morale of teachers and staff to opportunities for partnerships and grants with businesses and public agencies. The superintendent’s leadership influences perceptions of community members and families regarding their belief in the school district, and most importantly, superintendent leadership influences student achievement outcomes.

A recent research study (Waters and Marzano, 2007) on school superintendents featured three major findings:

1. There is a statistically significant relationship between district leadership and student achievement. (The teachers are much affected by district leadership, and thereby, so are the students.)

2. Effective superintendents focus their efforts on creating goal-oriented districts. (In our district, this is the basis of the 2006-2011 District Strategic Plan and the Alignment and Accountability model that drives our classroom instruction.)

3. Superintendent tenure is positively correlated with student achievement. (This finding tells us that we must not just hire, but train and hold on to superintendents who produce good results for the community. Positive change occurs over time.)

I feel strongly that we have, in our superintendent, not merely the best of the candidates we had in 2004, but that rare professional who could step into any school district in the country and lead that district to an on-going legacy of excellence in public education.

I will vote tomorrow to offer this contract to our superintendent.


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