In many urban public school districts there is a predictable cycle of revolving superintendent leadership.
Typically, a school board hires a superintendent and tacitly accepts his or her theory of change to improve student achievement.
The new superintendent spends the first year getting to know the district and community, evaluating and planning.
The second year, the superintendent initiates change, a process that eliminates some programs, adds others, reorganizes the administration and changes school leadership.
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These actions are unsettling to some staff, teachers and board members.
Not surprisingly, test scores do not improve dramatically in this short time; the board begins to question the superintendent’s actions.
As each finds fault, the support of the leadership diminishes. The undermining has begun; the superintendent is on the way out and the cycle ready to be repeated.
The average tenure of an urban school district superintendent is three years. Boards know this and apparently accept it as inevitable.
The most viable plan seems to be keeping an executive search firm on retainer.
Many big-city school districts elect board members from single-member voting districts, i.e., each from a geographic area of the city.
Usually a portion of board members’ terms expire in rotation. As a result, every few years a board is subject to the possibility of significant shifts in policy, direction and leadership.
Like the cyclical nature of superintendent leadership, board leadership is often cyclical.
Such absence of succession planning is unimaginable in corporate America.
The primary roles and responsibilities of corporate board members are defined in volumes of literature. A sampling reveals a common board function stated in different ways:
▪ “appointing and planning for the succession of the president,”
▪ “provide continuity for the organization,”
▪ “management selection, retention and succession,” and
▪ “establish and regularly review executive compensation and succession plans.”
The common theme is “succession” planning. All successful organizations expect and plan for changes in leadership.
Public K-12 education simply ignores leadership succession planning and accepts the disruptive cycle of changing leadership. Why?
The Texas Education Code 11.151(b), (d) delineates nine functions of a public school board. Succession planning is not among them.
The Texas Association of School Boards cites four primary responsibilities of a public school board. Succession planning isn’t one of them.
One could conclude that educators and policymakers think the democratic election of school boards thwarts succession planning. Surely that need not be the case.
What we’re left with under current lack of succession planning in public school systems is a most vexing question: Why do communities accept the continuing disruption of their children’s education?
William H. Koehler, former TCU provost, was president of the Fort Worth school board 2004-2008.