Updated April 03, 2016.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a school district is the school superintendent. The superintendent is essentially the face of the district. They are most responsible for the successes of a district and most assuredly responsible when there are failures. The role of a school superintendent is broad. It can be rewarding, but the decisions they make can also be especially difficult and taxing. It takes an exceptional person with a unique skill set to be an effective school superintendent.
Much of what a superintendent does involves working directly with others. School superintendents must be effective leaders who work well with other people and understand the value of building relationships. A superintendent must be adept at establishing working relationships with many interest groups inside the school and within the community itself to maximize their effectiveness. Building a strong rapport with the constituents in the district makes fulfilling the required roles of a school superintendent a little easier.
Board of Education Liaison
One of the primary duties of the board of education is to hire a superintendent for the district. Once the superintendent is in place, then the board of education and the superintendent should become partners. While the superintendent is the CEO of the district, the board of education provides oversight for the superintendent. The best school districts have boards of education and superintendents who work well together.
The superintendent is responsible for keeping the board informed of events and happenings in the district and also making recommendations about daily operations for the district. The board of education may ask for more information, but in most cases a good board will accept the superintendent’s recommendations. The board of education is also directly responsible for evaluating the superintendent and thus, can terminate the superintendent should they believe they are not doing their job.
The superintendent is also responsible for preparing the agenda for board meetings. The superintendent does sit in on all board meetings to make recommendations but is not allowed to vote on any of the issues. If the board votes to approve a mandate, then it is the duty of the superintendent to carry out that mandate.
Assistant Superintendents – Large districts have the luxury of hiring assistant superintendents who specialize in one or two specific areas such as transportation or curriculum. These assistant superintendents meet regularly with the superintendent and receive their direct instruction from them, but manage the daily operations of their area. Small districts typically do not have assistants, so all the responsibility would fall on the superintendent.
Principals/Assistant Principals – The superintendent is responsible for evaluating and making recommendations to hire/maintain/terminate principals/assistant principals. The superintendent has regular meetings with principals about specifics of the daily operations of their buildings. The superintendent must have principals/assistant principals that they trust fully to do their jobs because having an ineffective principal in a building can be disastrous.
Teachers/Coaches – The amount of interaction between a superintendent and the teachers/coaches in the district typically depend upon the superintendent themselves. This is a duty that primarily falls on the principal/assistant principal, but some superintendents, especially in smaller districts, like to have one on one interaction with their teachers/coaches. The superintendent will be the one who makes a recommendation to hire, maintain, or terminate to the board of education, but most superintendents take the direct recommendation from the building principal in this matter.
Support Personnel – The superintendent is almost always directly responsible for hiring, maintaining, terminating support personnel. This is a primary role a superintendent. A strong superintendent will surround themselves with good, trustworthy people. While the superintendent is the head of the district, the support personnel are the backbone of the district. The administrative professionals, custodians, maintenance, security, kitchen staff, etc. play such a large role in the daily operations that it is essential to have people in those positions that are there to do their job right and work well with others. This falls on the superintendent of the district.
The primary role of any superintendent is to develop and maintain a healthy school budget. If you are not good with money, then you will likely fail as a school superintendent. School finance is not an exact science. It is a complicated formula that changes from year to year especially in the realm of public education. The economy almost always dictates how much money is going to be available for the school district. Some years are better than others, but a superintendent must always figure out how and where to spend their money.
The toughest decisions a school superintendent will face are in those years of deficit. Cutting teachers and/or programs is never an easy decision. Superintendents ultimately have to make those tough decisions to keep their doors open. The truth is that it isn’t easy and making cuts of any kind will have an impact on the quality of education the district provides. If cuts must be made, the superintendent must examine all options thoroughly and ultimately make cuts in the areas where they believe the impact will be the least.
Manages Daily Operations
Building Improvements/Bond Issues – Over the years the buildings in a district go through normal wear and tear. Also during this time, the overall needs of the district will change. The superintendent must evaluate the needs of the district and make recommendations as to whether to try to build new structures through a bond issue and/or make repairs on existing structures. There is a balance between the two. If the superintendent feels like passing a bond is a necessity, they must first convince the board and then convince the community to back it.
District Curriculum – The superintendent is responsible for ensuring that approved curriculum meets district, state, and national standards. This process typically begins at the individual building site, but the superintendent will have the final say as to whether the district should adopt and use the curriculum.
District Improvement – One of the main duties of a superintendent is to be a constant evaluator. Superintendents should always be looking for methods, both large and small, to improve their district. A superintendent who does not have a vision for continuous improvement is not doing their job and does not have the best interest of the district in mind.
District Policies – The superintendent is responsible for writing new district policies and revising and/or reviewing old ones. This should be a yearly endeavor. New issues constantly arise, and policies should be developed detailing how these issues will be handled.
District Reports – States require superintendents to submit various reports concerning teacher and student data throughout the school year. This can be a particularly tedious part of the job, but it is necessary if you want to keep your doors open. Being proactive throughout the year and keeping up with this data as you move along will make completing these reports easier in the long run.
Student Transfers – A superintendent makes the decision whether to accept or deny a transfer to potentially incoming and outgoing students. In order for a student to receive a transfer, both superintendents must agree to the transfer. If the receiving superintendent agrees to the transfer, but the outgoing superintendent does not, then the transfer is denied.
Transportation – Transportation can be an enormous role for a superintendent. The superintendent is responsible for purchasing enough buses, keeping them maintained, hiring bus drivers, and creating routes that maximize efficiency. In addition, they must develop bicycle routes, walking routes, and snow routes.
Lobbies for the District
Builds Community Relations – A superintendent must build relationships with all members of the community. This includes parents of students, the business community, and those who live in the community without any direct ties to the school such as senior citizen groups. Creating strong ties with these groups will be invaluable when it comes time to try to pass a bond issue.
Works with the Media – The superintendent is the face of the district in good times and in times of crisis.
Superintendents in large markets will be in the news consistently and must advocate for their district and their students. An outstanding superintendent will seek out opportunities to partner with the media.
Builds Relationships with Other Districts – Building relationships with other districts and their superintendents can be valuable. These relationships allow for an exchange of ideas and best practices. They also can be extremely beneficial in difficult times of crisis or tragedy.
Builds Relationships with Politicians – A superintendent must lobby on their districts behalf on key political issues that will positively or negatively affect the district. Education has increasingly become more political, and those who neglect this aspect aren’t maximizing their effectiveness.