The problem with school superintendents

Apr 15, 2013 by

By Katherine Schultz –

Tony Smith announced his resignation as superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District early this month, news that stunned much of the education community in the Bay Area. Although not without his share of controversy, Tony has done a remarkable job in his five-year tenure as superintendent. He possesses a rare combination of charisma, kindness, and an ability to articulate a powerful vision along with an enthusiasm for listening and learning from others. In a district known for its critique and discord, it is notable that, at this critical moment of leadership transition, there is almost uniform consensus that the next superintendent be someone who can carry forward and implement the bold vision of community schools that Tony and his team have crafted. This moment of transition in Oakland has profound implications for those of us who care deeply about our city’s public schools and it has important and far-reaching implications for other cities around the country.

In recent years, two trends have characterized the urban school district superintendency. First, urban superintendents rarely stay in their positions for more than a few years. Smith was a rare exception to this, especially in Oakland where few superintendents have lasted more than two years. Second, there is a tendency for new superintendents to start anew, with their own bold vision, in order to make their mark. This is nearly always a mistake; this strategy inevitably slows the momentum of progress and the consequent discontinuity often causes disruption in the lives of children, teachers and families.

Oakland needs a new superintendent who will continue the work begun by Smith and his administration. And we need more than that. We need a superintendent who is able to communicate this vision to the wider community, including parents and funders, with the same force and passion that Tony possessed, and we need someone with a deep understanding of teaching and teachers’ central role in successfully implementing this vision. At a time where teachers are increasingly blamed for the failure of urban schools, the next superintendent of Oakland should have a lived knowledge of classroom life and a deep respect for teachers.

via The problem with school superintendents.

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