Education Week - April 19, 2017 - 22
How to Hire a Superintendent
Who Will Stick Around
By Cathy Mincberg
he average superintendent tenure is approximately three years in urban districts and
six years in suburban districts, according
to a 2014 Council of the Great City Schools
survey, and those time spans make it hard
to develop and institute significant improvements. While some factors shortening
superintendent tenure are beyond control,
many other factors are manageable. Here are some common
pitfalls your local school board must circumnavigate when
choosing new district leadership:
1. A mismatch between district and leader.
Too often, boards hire based solely on interviews, with little
deep knowledge about the candidate. It is easy to confuse confidence for competence in any work setting. And sometimes
superintendents commit to leading districts without a true understanding of the dynamics of their new bosses, the members
of the school board. Visions may differ, but there is real danger
in conflicting expectations for management styles, priorities,
and the governance working relationship.
By Earl J. Edwards
n the middle of my freshman year
of high school, I started my fourth
episode of homelessness. My parents, five brothers, and I migrated
back and forth from relatives'
living rooms, motels, and family
shelters for more than two years.
By the time I graduated from high
school, I had moved a total of 14 times.
Data from the research nonprofit Child
Trends show significant growth in youth
homelessness in the last decade. Since
my own high school graduation in 2006,
youth homelessness in the United States
has increased from approximately 815,000
youths nationwide to more than 1.3 million youths in the 2013-14 school year, the
most recent year for which data are available.
Experiencing homelessness as a child
Solution: During the interviewing phase of the hiring process, the board and the prospective superintendent should
develop a joint set of agreements. The dialogue around these
questions will be very revealing for both parties.
For example, how will the superintendent communicate with
and inform the board? How should constituent concerns be
handled? How should school visitation by board members be
handled? How are requests for information handled? How are
district priorities to be set, and what are they?
2. Poor understanding of the candidate.
Candidates and boards don't know each other. Resumes are
not very revealing, and search firms tend to seek out points
of agreement, not areas of potential conflict. Boards should
demand search and hiring processes that truly reveal the personalities of candidates and the often-hidden priorities of the
Solution: In addition to the search firm, the school board
should hire someone with investigative skills (possibly the district's HR leader) to conduct a comprehensive review of the
candidates. It should rely on real experiences of the candidate
to understand management style, handling of successes and
failures, quality of people the candidate has hired, personal
quirks, and treatment of employees and the community.
has a direct effect on academic achievement. In 2014, America's Promise Alliance
reported that youths affected by homelessness are 87 percent more likely to drop out
of high school and, as a result, are more
likely to become homeless as adults. Additionally, homeless youths have higher levels of physical trauma and social isolation
when compared with their housed peers,
including those living in poverty.
Youth homelessness is a devastating epidemic with negative outcomes for students
across all racial groups. However, AfricanAmerican students are disproportionately
affected. African-American children represent 48 percent of all children living in
homeless shelters, even though AfricanAmericans make up only 14 percent of
American families with children, according to Child Trends. Concurrently, a 2013
study of homeless youths in San Francisco
from the California Homeless Youth Project found that homeless African-American
youths are less likely to self-identify as
homeless compared with their white peers,
and thus fail to receive aid and services to
which they are entitled.
Although my parents notified my school
district of when we became homeless, I
was unaware that anyone knew of our circumstances. I never spoke to any teachers,
counselors, or administrators about my living conditions, and no one ever asked me
about them. Keeping such a secret was extremely difficult, but fear of being reported
to the Department of Social Services kept
me silent. I spent more energy lying about
where I lived than studying, and as a result my grades dropped dramatically.
22 | EDUCATION WEEK | April 19, 2017 | www.edweek.org/go/commentary
In turn, the superintendent candidate should look for examples of how the board handles conflict, community controversy,
priority setting, and relationships.
All candidates have strengths and weaknesses, but the current hiring process tends to highlight the strengths.
3. Reliance on the interview to make a selection.
Most superintendent selection processes rely heavily, if
not entirely, on interviews. Often, follow-up and probing
questions are discouraged. In the end, the board has heard
a couple of canned statements that give a very superficial
impression and reveal little more than who is the slickest
talker in the candidate pool. During these brief and highstress interviews, there is no time to establish rapport between the candidate and the board.
Solution: Instead of prioritizing interviews, the board
should first rely on the investigations of past behaviors by
the candidates, as past behavior is the best predictor of
future behavior. In addition, it should initiate a series of
interactions between the candidates and the board members in a variety of settings where interaction ranges from
casual to structured.
4. Superintendents arriving with a 100-day plan.
Boards want action-fast. Even superintendents hired
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, federal legislation enacted
in 1987, defines as "homeless" any child
who doesn't have a "fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence." That includes
children from families who are doubling
up in homes with relatives or other adults,
as well as those living in shelters, motels,
or cars. The McKinney-Vento Act established that homeless students have the
right to transportation, free lunch, school
supplies, tutoring, and school choice. In
addition, students who are designated as
homeless have the option of continuing to
attend their current school or enrolling in
the school closest to where they are currently residing.
Many teachers are often
uninformed about homeless
populations at their school."
In 2015, the McKinney-Vento Act was reauthorized under the Every Student Succeed Act and now requires school districts
to increase outreach efforts for identifying
homeless students and informing families
of their legal rights. According to Education Department guidance on ESSA issued in June 2016, the amendment to the
McKinney-Vento Act also requires school
districts to disaggregate their studentachievement data and graduation rates to
explicitly show the academic progress of
their homeless youths. The improvements
to McKinney-Vento are significant, but they
are in vain if key stakeholders continue to
be in the dark.
As a student experiencing homelessness, I wanted my teachers to attend to
my social and emotional needs. But now,
as a former high school and special education teacher myself, I understand why
my teachers did not respond to my needs:
They did not know. As a teacher, I never
received training on the McKinney-Vento
Act, nor was I informed that there were
homeless youths at my school. The McKinney-Vento Act requires state coordinators to train district liaisons on identifying homeless students and implementing
the policy. Each district liaison is then
charged with disseminating the information to his or her respective school leaders
and supporting the homeless youths identified. Teachers are not mandated to learn
about the McKinney-Vento Act. Thus,
many teachers are often uninformed about
homeless populations at their school.
An overall lack of awareness of homelessness prevents homeless students from
receiving support or even being identified.
Principals and teachers should consider the
following when creating a network of support for youths experiencing homelessness:
* Schoolwide training. The entire faculty should be trained and versed on the
McKinney-Vento Act. Faculty members are
in the best position to identify homeless
youths and refer them to the district liaison
for additional support.
* Student awareness. All students
should know the McKinney-Vento Act's defi-