School Board and Superintendent: Who's in charge here?

Focus on the Classroom by Rosanne Winter

The most important role of a school board is to hire an effective superintendent. The most important role of a superintendent is to provide leadership. According to Larry Lashway, senior research analyst and writer for the ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management at the University of Oregon, a superintendent is an instructional, managerial, and political leader. The Florida Code repeatedly uses the terms, “advise”, “recommend” and “assist”. So is a superintendent a leader or an assistant? The answer is yes!
According to a study conducted by the American Association of School Administrators, nine out of ten school boards evaluate their superintendents on the criteria of, “Leading and managing personnel, fiscal resources, facilities, community relations, fostering a positive school/district climate and relating effectively with the board…”
So, a school board must collaborate with the community to develop standards for a superintendent who is an instructional, managerial and political leader. Those standards must be used to hire, evaluate and improve the performance of a superintendent. They should incorporate the best that educational research has to tell us.
Instructional leadership begins with a vision, builds community support, is grounded in educational research, collaborates with district professionals, builds confidence for success among stakeholders and holds accountable those with power.
Managerial leadership is grounded in fiscal prudence, demanding of quality over quantity, and unrelenting in demands for safety and security.
Political leadership is steeped in communication and collaboration, buffeted through negotiation and infused with humor, passion and compassion.
In the relationship between a school board and the superintendent, mutual respect is essential. The board must remember that it works for the citizenry and clearly articulate what that citizenry expects of the superintendent. It must hold the superintendent accountable for meeting those expectations. Frequent feedback and assistance must be given. When the superintendent is successful, everyone benefits. When a school board and its superintendent have a dysfunctional relationship, everyone suffers.
This is where the Florida Code’s terms, “advise”, “recommend” and “assist” enter the picture. The superintendent who is the wise political leader remembers that he or she works for the school board. All information about the organization must be shared openly, correctly and in a timely fashion with the board. If there are problems, the superintendent must “advise” the board as soon as possible, “recommend” solutions and “assist” the board in implementing those solutions.
So, from the moment a search for a superintendent begins, a school board must seek success by including the community in the search criteria, doing the hard work and asking the tough questions. They must look beyond a candidate’s credentials to past performance, which is the best indicator of future performance. Once hired, the superintendent must be given clear direction, strong support, caring concern, careful guidance and professional respect. The superintendent must reciprocate with open, frequent and honest communication, diligent attention to the work, and respect for students, teachers, administrators, the board and the community. This is the formula for successful school district leadership.

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