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The Top 5 Challenges for School Superintendents

Massachusetts school superintendent Nancy Taylor reflected on her 25-year career in the Falmouth school district recently, where she started as a guidance counselor. She spent some years as assistant principal, director of guidance, and principal before taking on the superintendent position in 2015. "My guiding force has always been that if my decisions are based on what's best for kids, then I can't lose," she said.

Taylor believes that the quality of schools in the Falmouth district is the direct result of its educators. She considers the teaching staff to be one of the district's greatest assets, and said, "I don't think teachers get the professional accolades they deserve." Collaboration and support from the Falmouth Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS) and the Falmouth Education Foundation, along with community partnerships, helped Taylor combat the opioid crisis and address rising mental health issues among students, both significant challenges she has faced.

The 2017 Survey of K-12 School District Superintendents

In 2017, Gallup conducted a research study of K-12 school district superintendents to "understand their opinions on important topics and policy issues facing education." Gallup's survey showed a majority of superintendents are facing these top five challenges:

  • Students whose achievement is impacted by socioeconomic conditions (81%)
  • Budget shortfalls (73%)
  • A push to strengthen academic rigor (66%)
  • Rising demands for assessment on both the state and federal levels (64%)
  • Improved preparation of students for higher education (59%)

The shortage of teachers and principals is also a serious concern, and superintendents reported that they prefer candidates who can "teach a rigorous academic core, even in early education." On the bright side, the proportion of superintendents who reported that revamping curriculum is a challenge has declined from 69 percent to 50 percent since 2013.

Top Superintendents Share Recommendations

The Washington Post reported on a panel discussion with the top four school system superintendents selected as finalists for the AASA (American Association of School Administrators) 2015 National Superintendent of the Year award. Three lessons these educators offered from their experience are:

  1. Engage the community.
    Finding out what concerns the community has regarding the school district and then putting resources into improvements has helped set priorities and strengthen trust. It has also resulted in improved performance and improved classrooms, according to Philip Lanoue from Clarke County, Georgia.
  2. Focus on teachers.
    Teachers are often blamed for poor student performance, and focusing on teacher evaluation systems, mentorship programs, and incentive programs has helped MaryEllen Elia's school district in Hillsborough County, Florida, increase performance and teacher retention from 74 percent to 92 percent.
  3. Give schools — and students — individual attention.
    Patrice Pujol of Ascension Public Schools in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, made it a priority to improve her district's eight lowest-performing schools. Replacing five of the eight principals, providing guidance on best practices, and moving highly rated teachers into the low-performing schools helped raise the ratings on those schools and increase attention to individual students.

University of Texas Arlington Superintendent Certificate Online Program

UTA's fully online Superintendent Certificate Program is designed to provide the skills and background information needed to become a practicing superintendent in the state of Texas. It is a two-semester, 15-credit-hour program with all courses taught by active and retired superintendents.

The no-thesis program is NCATE-accredited and offers relevant field experience in district-level leadership. This program is for administrators who already have principal certification and a conferred master's degree but want to further advance in the K-12 education arena.

Learn more about UTA's Superintendent Certification Online program.


Sources:

Gallup: The Gallup 2017 Survey of K-12 School District Superintendents

Education Dive: Gallup 2017 Survey of K-12 Superintendents Highlights Challenges Facing Districts

The Washington Post: Lessons From Four Top Schools Superintendents

Wicked Local Falmouth: School Superintendent Looks Back on Her 25-Year Career in Falmouth

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