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Superintendent Churn

October 1, 2012

The Oklahoman ran a story over the weekend discussing the fact that superintendents tend to resign from time to time. In fact, since 2006, 530 superintendents have either resigned, retired, or been fired in Oklahoma. On average, school districts have each changed superintendents once in the last six years.

Of course there are highs and lows. The paper notes that Varnum has had six new superintendents in that span of time. Districts such as Jenks, Union, and Norman have had just one. Even many small districts have long-tenured superintendents. And some – such as Oklahoma City and Tulsa – seem to turn over the top position frequently.

What does this mean?

First of all, it’s a hard job. Your community expects you to be on the clock and highly visible at all times. You don’t really have any down time. For that reason, there aren’t a lot of people just dying to take a superintendent’s job.

Second, even if you’re doing a great job, momentum can swell against you. As a leader, you can’t do your job without upsetting people from time to time. It takes a lot more work to turn people towards you than it does to turn them against you. Once you make a patron mad – even if you are in the right – you will have a hard time getting that person to support you again.

Third – and my readers from smaller districts will hate me for saying this – sometimes administrators look for bigger opportunities. Many Oklahoma districts are small and remote. They are good at being who they are, but being there is not the long-term objective of every superintendent (or principal or teacher, for that matter). That causes a lot of voluntary turnover.

Finally, the superintendency is usually the last job a person will have in education. By the time someone gets to that position, he/she may only be a few years away from retirement anyway.

While the onslaught of reforms may contribute to some people throwing their hands up and walking away a year or two earlier than they would have otherwise, it is likely not a major reason why superintendents leave. In fact, superintendent tenure has long been brief in Oklahoma. There’s really no story here at all.

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  1. LA Spencer
    October 2, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    That sup count for Varnum doesn’t count the interims. I believe the count is more like nine. I lived through most of them.


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