A quarter-century of work with public and nonprofit CEOs and their boards has taught me that the preeminent factor determining whether a CEO achieves her executive leadership objectives over the long run is a close, productive, and enduring board-CEO working relationship. This is certainly true of superintendents. Unfortunately, coming up through the ranks in their districts, superintendent-aspirants tend not to learn the mechanics involved in building and maintaining a solid partnership with the school board. Nor are they likely to learn how to go about board-superintendent partnership building in graduate school. So it’s no surprise that the governance terrain can be pretty treacherous for superintendents traveling it early in their tenure as district chief executives.
Sad to say, if arriving at the top spot in your district ill-prepared to work with your school board weren’t career-threatening enough, there are other critical facets of CEO-ship that superintendent-aspirants tend not to master advancing through the district ranks – and that they are not likely to learn in graduate school. For example, two of the most complex and highest-stakes chief executive roles that new superintendents are often unprepared to handle are serving as their district’s Innovator-in-Chief, spearheading district innovation and change initiatives, and playing the leading role in external relations, including building productive relationships with key stakeholder organizations, such as the chamber of commerce and community college district.
Without question, the Aspiring Superintendents’ Academy of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators is meeting a serious need, so I’m delighted that MASA’s Executive Director, Gary Amoroso, and Director of Professional Learning, Mia Urick, have recorded this podcast for our Board Savvy Superintendent Blog. As Gary and Mia explain, the Academy’s mission has taken on even greater urgency in light of an ominous development in recent years: declining interest among K-12 executives in applying for superintendent vacancies. Gary and Mia suggest that this waning interest in advancing to the top spot in Minnesota districts might have a lot to do with the widespread perception that the superintendent’s job has become heavily external and political. Dealing with ever more contentious board members and building support among increasingly skeptical taxpayers and critical community stakeholders is a far cry from the traditional picture of the superintendent as an educational statesperson operating above the fray.
With the support of AASA and NJPA, the MASA Aspiring Superintendents’ Academy is doing its utmost to make sure that Minnesota superintendents not only survive – but also thrive – over the long run as their districts’ chief executive officers, in the face of daunting challenges. Gary’s and Mia’s podcast is chock-full of practical, tested wisdom based on the Academy’s experience thus far, so we hope you’ll take advantage of it. Happy listening! And we welcome your commenting and sharing your experience.