AASA 2023: How can superintendents work to expand leadership pipelines?

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SAN ANTONIO — Has the role of the superintendent grown more difficult in recent years? Are there too many great superintendents considering leaving their roles and moving on to something new?

If the near-unanimously raised hands and affirmations of a meeting room packed with superintendents in the Henry B. González Convention Center was any indication, the answer to both questions is a resounding “yes.”

“Seeing terrific, amazing leaders move on to do something else is difficult to see,” Doug Roberts, founder and CEO of the Institute for Education Innovation, told attendees at AASA’s National Conference on Education during a Feb. 16 session on building leadership pipelines.

However, rather than “just crying about it,” Roberts said, his company seeks to bridge gaps and foster collaboration between superintendents and education business leaders, to advocate and provide support for district leaders on issues like equity, self-care and thinking outside the box. “These are not merely topics of seminars. These are what we live, breathe, eat, drink and work on every day.”

When he speaks with superintendents who tell him they’re thinking about what to do next, “it truly is heartbreaking,” Roberts said. So along with its mission of supporting those in the field, IEI is also working to find the next generation of leaders for the superintendency.

Over the next hour, Roberts and a panel of four superintendents shared tips and strategies on everything from mentoring to “normalizing superintendents taking care of themselves.”

Never stop seeking mentorship

Anyone who is reflective at all has a list of people who influenced the trajectory of their career — no matter their profession, said PJ Caposey, superintendent of Meridian Community Unit School District 223 in Stillman Valley, Illinois.

“I think it’s invaluable to continue to find coaches for yourself. No matter how much you think you may have arrived or how many people you may actually coach, I still go out and actively seek coaching for myself because I’m unfinished and need support there,” Caposey said. He noted that leaders at vendor companies and district partners have served as “unexpected coaches” at times, giving him insights into business structure and the parallels he could use for organizing his district.

He pushed me into that role because he saw something in me, so I would encourage those who are in our seats to see people who have that potential and push them, because they may not push themselves.

Melvin Brown

Superintendent of Montgomery Public Schools in Alabama

Mentors can also make a difference when it comes to helping someone who may not see leadership in their future ultimately recognize their potential.

“I never wanted to be a superintendent or a principal. I wanted to teach special ed and I wanted to coach basketball,” said Justin Jennings, superintendent of Youngstown City School District in Ohio. “My moment was [when] the superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools at the time …  came to me and said, ‘Hey, I need you to be an administrator.’”

After telling Jennings to think about it, the superintendent returned the next day and said he meant to tell him he could “take the principal job or you’ve got to find a job somewhere else.” But that provided the push he needed to embrace a leadership role.

Jennings advised that superintendents should always make sure their contracts include a coach and the ability to choose that coach. “I don’t want a mentor who can’t do what I need them to do,” he said.

Your mentor should be someone who can not only help build your capacity, but help you move forward, Jennings said.

“I kind of backed into administration myself,” added Melvin Brown, superintendent of Montgomery Public Schools in Alabama. When he was a 7th grade teacher finishing his administrative prep program, his superintendent in a previous district suggested he apply to be the elementary school principal.

Brown initially questioned the request because he had not even been an assistant principal yet, and was told, “We think you can handle it.” He ultimately got the job.

“He pushed me into that role because he saw something in me, so I would encourage those who are in our seats to see people who have that potential and push them, because they may not push themselves,” said Brown.

This article originally appeared in www.k12dive.com

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