Understanding the Impact of Educational Governance at the Local Level: The Local Superintendent
On the local level, educational governance is organized into four levels including the local school board, the local superintendent, the local school district, and the principle. This article highlights the details of the local superintendent.
The local superintendent is the most powerful person at the local level, because he or she is the de facto head of all schools in the district, fulfilling both executive and administrative functions. Superintendents are usually selected by school boards, although some districts elect their superintendent. There is a significant gender gap at this level, and around three quarters of superintendents are male.
The duties of a superintendent are varied. Often the only professional educator present at a board meeting, the superintendent advises board members on educational issues and policy. And as an instructional leader, the superintendent supports and directs principals, supervises and oversees staff performance evaluations, and measures the effectiveness of programs and curricula in the schools. Superintendents have a say in how the schools are administered on a daily basis, setting policy in education and related areas such as dress codes, the courses that are taught, and tolerance/ behavior policies. Other tasks include establishing the yearly budget for the district, recruiting and hiring educational personnel, and ensuring that all school buildings are kept in repair. The superintendent also leads an administrative team that usually comprises one or more deputy/assistant superintendents, who assist the superintendent with the day-to-day operations of the district and its schools.
One of the most important duties of a superintendent is to increase public awareness concerning the vision and the direction of the local school board. It has been suggested that a superintendent’s most taxing and important role is that of a political negotiator, because the superintendent must navigate the various demands of a citizenry bent on influencing school policies. The most effective superintendent is, of necessity, a generalist who possesses an eclectic range of skills and abilities and a comprehensive knowledge of educational issues.
In 1993, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) developed professional standards to guide the behavior of superintendents, as well as to serve as a means for measuring their effectiveness. According to the AASA, superintendents are mandated to:
• Provide executive leadership and establish an appropriate climate in schools under their charge.
• Work collaboratively with the local school board to set educational policy.
• Attend to regulations and standards.
• Effectively communicate the district’s unique vision to the public at large.
• Maintain a harmonious relationship with the community.
Superintendents must use data to inform their decision-making process as they strive to find solutions to issues or problems in their schools. They are considered experts in guiding the development of curriculum and in designing means to assess academic achievement. They also provide excellence in instructional management, using current pedagogical research to ensure that all students in their schools are exposed to the very best educational practices. Superintendents are required to be experts in developing means by which to evaluate staff, and they make sure that professional development is available for educational personnel so that they may continue to improve professionally. Finally, superintendents are expected to understand the underlying values of the school district and to model appropriate leadership in this respect. The standards for performance for superintendents seem to indicate that the role of the superintendent is one of guidance, facilitation, communication, and coordination.
The typical tenure of a superintendent is 5.5 years, leading some analysts to suggest that turnover is common due to the inherent conflicts that exist between superintendent and school boards.
This conflict may find its genesis in the fact that superintendents must provide leadership to school boards while at the same time being directly responsible to them. Keep in mind that the school boards hire superintendents in the first place. Conflicts inevitably arise over funding issues, political stances, and change as it occurs in education. To successfully manage these conflicts and achieve their educational vision, superintendents often find themselves garnering support from various coalitions.
By being the second level of educational governance on the local level, the superintendent is vital to the operation and behind the scenes work within the education system. Therefore it is important to know your local superintendent and understand their leadership and mission. Continue to read articles in this segment to learn about the other levels of educational governance at the local level.