“Our students have limitless potential, and it is our job to give them the support they need to achieve their dreams. We take the responsibility very seriously, but it is not a job we can do alone. I know that, if we can create strong partnerships with our parents and families, we can make sure that each child gets the instruction, guidance, and support they need …”
Dr. Jill Shackelford, School Superintendent
Effective leadership skills. The ability to work and communicate well with others. A keen understanding of how to build and maintain relationships. The know-how to bring diverse sets of people together for a common goal.
All these traits—and more—converge in the oft-overlooked job of the school superintendent. If it sounds like a tall order, it is.
Why do they need this skill set? What exactly does a school superintendent do? Let’s look at what the superintendent’s job requires and what kind of person does well in this capacity.
The school superintendent is the face of the district. They are the “CEO” held responsible for whatever happens in the district, success or failure. They make decisions, enforce policy, and represent the district.
The general duties of the school superintendent include:
- Implementing the school board’s vision through day-to-day decisions
- Educational programs
- Hiring, supervising, and managing the central staff and principals
- Working with school leaders to serve the students and to meet the goals of the district
- Responding to the demands of teachers, students, parents, staff, advocates, and the community
- Considering how to use resources to achieve the best results.
- Communicate relevant information to the media, the community, and parents
The school superintendent responds to the interests of all connected to the school. Students, the district, and the community at large all rely on this one official to get it right.
“In the school system, there are…principals, teachers, students, parents, and city council members. A superintendent may have to deal with issues that arise with any of these groups,” PracticalAdultInsights tells us. “Parents may confront the superintendent of schools when they have a problem with the head of a particular facility. Teachers may confront the superintendent with similar concerns or concerns about working conditions. City council members may confront him when there are issues of high drop-out rates or violence.”
A school superintendent has a complex and vital job. From the board to the community, they are the glue that holds everything together.
One of the superintendent’s duties is working with the school board for the district’s good. GreatSchool.org explains the difficulties with this aspect of the job. “Working with the board can pose significant challenges for the superintendent. The board is the superintendent’s boss. They are responsible for hiring and firing the superintendent, and evaluating his or her performance on a regular basis. Since it is an elected body, new members might be chosen every few years. This change can create a different dynamic in the relationship with the superintendent from year to year, depending on who is elected.”
When it comes to their relationship with the school board, the superintendent is responsible for:
- Keeping the board informed of events and happenings in the district
- Making recommendations about daily operations
- Preparing the agenda for a board meeting
- Sitting for all board meetings and making various recommendations to the board (the superintendent doesn’t vote on board issues)
- Carrying out any mandates and policies passed by the school board
- Working with the board to create goals for the district
- Establishing programs to achieve the goals set by the board
Tension and competing priorities sometimes complicated the superintendent’s relationship with the school board. Still, an effective superintendent and school board learn to cooperate for the good of the schools and students in the district.
The superintendent is responsible to the school district as well. As a leader in the community, the superintendent holds a lot of influence.
“The superintendent is the CEO of the school district. He or she sets the tone, charts the course of the district, and works closely with the board of trustees,” explains GreatSchools.org. “The superintendent is also responsible for hiring and supervising the other administrators in the district, including the chief financial officer and the school principals.”
ThoughtCo. outlines some of the superintendent’s district responsibilities:
- “Principals/Assistant Principals – The superintendent is responsible for evaluating and making recommendations to hire/maintain/terminate principals/assistant principals. The superintendent has regular meetings with principals about specifics of the daily operations of their buildings …
- Teachers/Coaches – …The superintendent will be the one who makes a recommendation to hire, maintain, or terminate to the board of education, but most superintendents take the direct recommendation from the building principal in this matter.
- Support Personnel – The superintendent is almost always directly responsible for hiring, maintaining, terminating support personnel. This is a primary role of a superintendent…. The administrative professionals, custodians, maintenance, security, kitchen staff, etc. play such a large role in the daily operations that it is essential to have people in those positions that are there to do their job right and work well with others. This falls on the superintendent of the district.”
Depending on the district, other responsibilities of the superintendent at the district level might include:
- Responding to the demands of other constituencies and interest groups in the district
- Maintaining school facilities
- Ensure that schools meet specific standards
- Handling district emergencies (weather, school safety, etc.)
- Making sure that the approved curriculum meets all standard requirements by the district, state, and at the national level
- Reevaluating or revising old district policies and writing new ones
- Handling the school transportation, including bus purchases and maintenance, hiring bus drivers, deciding the bus routes.
The superintendent works with countless other people within the district, creating and maintaining good relationships to effectively do their job.
The superintendent builds relationships within their community. From parents to business owners, they cultivate a working relationship with the community as a whole.
As a liaison between the school district and the rest of the community, the superintendent’s job is to mediate school-related disagreements, deal with difficult situations that might arise, and even investigate various accusations made within the schools.
“A school superintendent has to deal with situations that arise such as complaints regarding a teacher’s behavior and other staff disciplinary issues,” WiseGeek explains. “Occasionally, there are allegations against teachers….It is the superintendent’s job to fully investigate any accusations, interview the parties involved, and report any findings to necessary agencies.…”
A good working relationship with the community will minimize the damage and add stability to challenging situations.
Primarily responsible for school budgeting, the school superintendent’s job involves figuring out a workable balance between financial variables and keeping that balance stable. Expenses and funding change from year to year, making a balanced budget a challenge. It’s the superintendent’s job to figure out the best way to spend the district’s limited resources.
“The truth is that it isn’t easy, and making cuts of any kind will have an impact on the quality of education the district provides,” ThoughtCo. acknowledges. “If cuts must be made, the superintendent must examine all options thoroughly and ultimately make cuts in the areas where they believe the impact will be the least.
The job of the school superintendent doesn’t stop with finances. As the CEO of the district (so to speak), the superintendent is also the face of the district. When a newsworthy event occurs, the superintendent interacts with the media. They also keep the community up-to-date about what’s going on in the district and communicate meeting information to parents. When the district faces impending changes, it’s the superintendent’s job to make sure that parents are aware of any upcoming hearings so that they can attend if they want to.
What You Can Do
You want your local school superintendent to be reliable, communicative, a good listener, and a visionary. The job of the school superintendent is a big one—and choosing one is a decision you can help influence.
In the United States, nearly 98% of school superintendents are appointed by the local school board.
Since the local school board appoints most superintendents, you should know who is on your school board and pay attention during local school board elections. (Or you could always run for school board yourself!) Your vote has an indirect, but undeniable impact on who your school superintendent is.
Do you have a good relationship with your local school board members? If you haven’t been investing in them already, here’s how you can get started.