Now, it’s getting really serious. Since March of 2020 (the beginning of covid) there has been a turnover of 32 superintendents in the 78 school districts in South Carolina. That is 41% of school districts. We did not count school districts that have had two turnovers. What in the world is going on ????? Yes, there are always a certain percentage of chief school administrators who retire, change school districts, are canned, or have health problems. However, these current numbers are way beyond what happens in a two year cycle.
It is always difficult to determine why superintendents leave their positions. In some cases, there is a public reason for their exit. When a school board makes public moves to sack a superintendent, it most times appears in the headlines of local newspapers. In most of those cases, the reasons for the board’s action is prominently displayed. However, there are always cases where does not seem to be a good reason for the action.
Resignations are also hard to figure out. In some instances, the board has put pressure on the superintendent to resign. The reason for the pressure never becomes public. The leaving superintendent never seems to come out and explain the resignation. In few cases the supe decries the board’s actions that led to his/her resignation. Health problems can also be difficult to discern. Depending on the illness, the superintendent may not explain what the illness is. He/she may see a future of recovery and want to resume a career in education. Yes, we have had some of those in South Carolina.
The movement from one school district to another can also be shrouded in mystery. There are many cases where a new job opening appears and it is in a larger school district that can afford to pay a higher salary and has resources that allow for expansion of educational opportunities. Those are easily seen. However, there are those transfers that don’t elevate the superintendent in remuneration or educational opportunities. Those are much harder to explain.
The fact that March of 2020 is the onset of Covid 19 makes the explanation of the mass exodus difficult. With the political machinations in each school district coming to the fore, the role of the superintendent as mediator, ameliorator, and protector much more difficult. Covid may have hastened retirements, transferring and removal by school boards. We will see what the next few years hold for the chief school administrator in South Carolina.
So, what does all of this mean? SC is not the only state that is seeing this phenomenon:
So what happens when a superintendent leaves a school district? If there is any time when there is a time lapse between the departure and the hiring of a new person, or an interim, the board has control over the school district in a very direct way. Even if the interim is someone from within the system, the board will have the power to pretty much do as they please.
In some cases, the board will seek advice from people from within the system. In a number of cases, the board will act with impunity to get some things accomplished that might have negative consequences. Usually the board feels comfortable in making personnel decisions. After all what can be easier than hiring people. It is at this time that hirings are done by nepotism. The more turnover in the superintendency, the more those kind of things occur. Since the board is the policy making arm of a school district, they might eliminate policies or create new policies that have unintended consequences.
Consistency flies out the window in some school districts when a superintendent leaves. Internal candidates have somewhat of an advantage in this arena. They are aware of the history of the district and lend a stable hand to what comes next. That is not always the case.
A superintendent of our acquaintance was replaced by his assistant superintendent. The assistant had been there for the nine years that his predecessor was in office. Who could have predicted that the assistant went about destroying all of the positive things that his predecessor had created? Who could have predicted that kind of bottled up enmity?
Can a new superintendent be a breath of fresh air? Of course he/she can. We are always on the lookout for new ideas that can help our children. How long will it take for the new person to understand the district, know who the go to people are, become acquainted with the community and establish a working relationship with the school board.
Saving those initial activities, when does the smoothness come about? For some, it starts in a short time. For some, it never happens. How many school leaders find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time? In this era, the duration is very short.
Is all of this the same in all districts- certainly not. The chances of a superintendent leaving a very large city school district takes a shorter time than in most other districts. Smaller and more rural districts take longer. Politics is much more prevalent in large city districts. Unless the new superintendent is familiar with the city and its politics, one can see he/she leaving in a short time. How does the frequency of turnover affect the students? Here are a number of opinions on the subject. They are at variance with each other.
https://www.vcstar.com/story/news/education/2018/12/22/superintendent-changes-impact-teachers-students-and-community/2312336002/ https://fisherpub.sjfc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1158&context=education_etd https://www.winginstitute.org/what-is-impact-of826 https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED494270.pdf
Some of these are pretty long. Hopefully, you can make your own decision about the effect of a chief school officer leaving. Love to hear from you.