Many school district superintendents started their educational careers as teachers, but many of the qualities that make outstanding teachers do not always translate into success for administrators at the coordinator, principal or superintendent level. Directing the course of an entire school district requires several different types of characteristics. The tests that come with being at the helm of a district's operations will quickly show whether or not superintendents have those traits.
In general, superintendents will have at least a master's degree in education administration, if not a doctorate in some area of educational leadership. In addition, they will have developed their ability to lead an academic organization through positions as principals, curriculum department coordinators, athletic directors or physical plant supervisors.
While it is important for a superintendent candidate to come to the interview with her own educational philosophy, any successful superintendent will need to have the skills to build consensus among all of the stakeholders of the educational community (teachers, parents, board members, and area business leaders) and also be open to considering changes to her own plan when circumstances require it. Knowing which political battles to fight and which to abandon will play a key role in the length of a superintendent's tenure.
In addition to integrity and high moral character, a successful superintendent must also have compassion for the situation of each student who attends school in that district. This includes not only cultural and socioeconomic differences, but also the various learning challenges that students with disabilities face when they come into the classroom. These characteristics will help superintendents maintain focus on serving student needs when fiscal difficulties make trimming expensive programs an attractive alternative.
Too many superintendents have lost their careers because of financial mismanagement during their tenure. While most school districts have entire staffs devoted to accounting matters, superintendents need to be conversant in these matters as well, so that they can monitor the district's budget. Other management skills include hiring individuals at lower levels of administration who excel in areas where the superintendent has somewhat less experience. A former English Language Arts coordinator, for example, would want to be sure to hire strong facilities management leaders to keep those elements of district operations running smoothly.
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