5 keys to choosing the right superintendent

Superintendent talent matters to district performance (Waters, et al, The Effect of Superintendent Leadership on Student Achievement, 2006).  This is especially true when district needs match the superintendent’s talents.  All great superintendents are great because they have the talent needed for the district they serve.  Here are the 5 keys to matching superintendent talent to district needs.

  1. The board must articulate its aspirations for their district.  Too often boards judge the quality of their district through the rear-view mirror.  Judging activity after it happens or as it is proposed.  Rarely do boards articulate aspirational statements focused on the future and spoken in terms of results, not activity.  When boards do come to consensus on aspirational goals, it makes it much easier to choose a superintendent with a passion for the same aspirations. (see example aspiration statements below)

  2. Student success must be the common goal.  This would seem like an easy one, right? But review all the laws, regulations, and board policy documents and you rarely, if ever, find statements about real student success.  Real student success is defined as a change in the student.  Ideally change which gives them a competitive advantage in life.  So much of education is about the adults in the room or pet programs, not students.  So much is driven by minimum standards, not inspiring outcomes.  Boards can address this by focusing on what Carver Governance© calls Ends statements.  Ends statement answer the question “What good for whom?”.  Focusing on ends assures boards

    1. Create mission statements with student success as the sole focus.  

    2. Evaluate district success based on student success first, then process quality required to assure student success next. 

    3. Evaluate their performance and the performance of the superintendent in terms of student success.

  3. The status of the district must be clear.  Board and superintendent candidates alike benefit from an accurate picture of the status of a district.  Superintendents have different talents.  Circumstances call for unique talents.  Knowing student performance, financial effectiveness, process quality, market share, student engagement rates, stakeholder satisfaction, faculty/staff engagement, and parent engagement helps clarify talent needs.  Finally, how do the district’s graduation expectations align with community, parent, and business expectations.  Having all this information in an easy to understand format is key to finding the right superintendent match.

  4. Superintendent candidates must be vetted for deep talent and past performance.  A resume and references tell very little about a superintendent’s deep talent and past performance.  Interviews rarely do more than advantage flashy candidates.  Boards and superintendent candidates alike need a clear picture of the talents being brought to the district. Past performance and deep talent need to be documented in key areas such as

    1. Leadership

    2. Strategic planning

    3. Voice of the student and stakeholders

    4. Information management

    5. Faculty/staff engagement

    6. Learning environment 

    7. Performance management

  5. There must be board-superintendent agreement on measures of success.  Finally, the board and superintendent need to agree on what success looks like in a way they can monitor performance gains over time.  Education is hard work.  Instant success rarely happens.  Both board and superintendent need to be in the game for the long haul.  Knowing progress is being made before the big breakthrough moments is key to team confidence and energy.

CF Educational Solutions does superintendent searches.  Our process includes development and documentation work to meet these 5 key areas.  Ours is less a search process as it is a talent matching process.  We partner with talented superintendents and success seeking boards to advance our only mission: student success.


Example aspiration statements (West Clermont Board of Education)

The West Clermont School District Board of Education would like the next superintendent to focus on the following aspirations they have for the district.

West Clermont School District is recognized nationally as an exemplary, innovative, cost effective model school district.  A destination district for students seeking success and educators seeking innovation.

  1. The West Clermont School district is recognized as a model district, one where students choose to stay in our schools to receive their education.

  2. The district is known for its innovation, creativity, technology integration and resources.

  3. The district has exemplary cost effectiveness (cost per successful student – Kalmus Ratio).

Student achievement for all students is growing, award winning, and nationally competitive.

  1. Achievement growth occurs for all students including typically high achieving ones.

  2. Students learn to become responsible, productive citizens.

  3. Students achieve regional, state, and national recognition for all aspects of their talents.

Community and parent engagement is strong and results in mutual pride and support.

  1. The business community is highly engaged in the district’s work.

  2. Proactive communications minimize conflict.

  3. The community is proud of their school district.

  4. The community is welcome in district facilities and programs.

  5. The community recognizes the districts cost effectiveness and invests accordingly.

Students are provided the very best educational experiences.

  1. All students at all grade levels receive diverse, rich learning experiences.

  2. Students have clear pathways to success beginning in early grades and continuing through life.

  3. Our district exhibits a courageous culture.

  4. Poverty is not an excuse for poor performance.

  5. Student learning goes beyond the classroom and beyond the basics.

Talent is attracted and retained in a collaborative and unifying environment.

  1. The district attracts and retains high quality faculty and staff.

  2. Faculty and staff talent flourishes through purposeful growth opportunities.

  3. The districts’ faculty and staff work in a professionally rewarding environment that engages their heart and mind.