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David Schuler on Preparing Aspiring Superintendents for the Top Spot

September 21, 2020 0 Comments

              Dave Schuler

In addition to serving as superintendent of Illinois High School District 214, Dave Schuler dedicates countless hours to making this true tale of woe that’s recounted in my book Building a High-Impact Board-Superintendent Partnership the exception to the rule.  A few years ago, I walked into the office of a  superintendent I’d known for a couple of years – an extremely bright and thoughtful chief executive officer who had over his two years at the helm of his southeastern district had made tremendous progress on the administrative front, including bringing in two new department heads to fix serious deficiencies in the financial and human resource management areas.  District educational performance was steadily improving, and he was immensely popular among the principals and faculty in the district’s eight buildings.  I was surprised to find my colleague slumped at his desk, head in hands, looking distraught.  When I asked what had happened, he handed me a copy of the email he’d received earlier that morning from his board president, following up on an executive session of the board the night before to review the superintendent assessment questionnaires that all nine board members had completed.  The bottom line:  unanimous agreement that, while he was an exemplary educational and administrative leader, he’d badly dropped the ball in working with the board, whose members felt taken for granted and disrespected.  They’d been  caught off guard several times over the past two years by developments the superintendent hadn’t briefed them on, and the regular quarterly one-on-one meetings with the superintendent over breakfast or lunch they’d requested over and over again hadn’t yet gotten off the ground.  Sad to say, this highly capable superintendent’s partnership with the board was so badly frayed that it couldn’t really be repaired, so at the end of his third year on the job, his contract wasn’t renewed.

Dave is passionately committed to helping K-12 executives aspiring to a superintendency not only reach the top spot, but also to survive and thrive after taking the helm.  His commitment is far from just rhetorical, witness the fact that Dave, president of AASA in 2015-16 and AASA’s 2018 National Superintendent of the Year, serves as Lead Teacher of the AASA Aspiring Superintendents Academy, which is the subject of the video interview I recorded with Dave a couple of weeks ago.  Over the course of our 45-minutes together, Dave describes the Academy’s mission and goals, how it operates, and what it has accomplished to-date.

The Academy meets a pressing need since many, if not most, superintendent-aspirants arrive at the top spot inadequately prepared to function as full-fledged chief executive officers.  They are highly unlikely to have acquired the  practical  knowledge and skills they need to flourish as a K-12 CEO as they climb the district administrative ladder in their districts – most importantly the nuts and bolts of building a really solid partnership with their school board, which, as our readers well know, is a subject largely ignored by graduate schools of education.  As Dave made clear in our interview, a major goal of the Academy is to ensure that superintendent-aspirants  are truly “board-savvy” by the time they first take the helm so that they can build an enduring relationship with their school board and don’t suffer the fate of the superintendent whose sad experience opens this post.

Doug Eadie