There’s continued discussion about teacher shortages this school year, but also disrupting districts is the mass exodus of superintendents leaving the profession. In California’s Fresno area, one small district was even preparing to start the new school year without a superintendent.
American Association of School Administrators executive director Dan Domenech has called the current superintendent turnover rate “astronomical.” In Dec. 2021, he noted that 45 superintendents in Georgia were planning to leave (compared to 12-15 in a “normal” year).
One month later in January 2022, ILO Group’s analysis of leadership transitions showed that 37% of the nation’s 500 largest school districts have experienced superintendent turnover since March 2020.
Education Resource Strategies used federal data to identify the nation’s 100 largest districts and compare pre-pandemic and current superintendent turnover rates. In both SY 2020-21 and SY 2021-22, EducationWeek reports, a quarter of these districts experienced superintendent turnover – which was the highest rate since 27% in 2018.
The good news is that these transitions create opportunities for new leaders to get their school, business, and broader communities involved in reexamining and, if necessary, redefining school district culture and identity.
Take Superintendent Iranetta Wright’s strategic approach, for example.
To start her new role this school year with Cincinnati Public Schools, Wright spent her summer engaged in a 100-Day plan designed to hear from the community she’s now serving to help map out the superintendent transition – and inform a strategic planning process.
In the “Engage” phase (Wright’s first 30-45 days on the job), in-person and virtual “listening sessions,” school visits, and town hall meetings involved local stakeholders. In the second “Explore” phase (45-70 days), Wright took a deep dive into CPS’ departments – from policy review to school systems and structures. Wright scheduled her “Evaluate” phase for days 70-90, dialing into the information she’d gathered from stakeholders and identifying revised priorities for CPS.
Through her process, Wright discovered a “fragmented culture” between the district office and schools, and room for improvement in communication transparency and timeliness.
And that knowledge informed the final “Equip” phase: updates are being made as necessary, and Wright is sharing expectations with the district based on stakeholder recommendations.
So while change is challenging, a lot of good can happen in 100 days. In Cincinnati, there’s a new superintendent who has her finger on the pulse of what her stakeholders want and need from her district – and an action plan to match.