Dr. Shawn Joseph, President of Joseph and Associates, Offers Advice for Those Working Towards Becoming a Superintendent
Superintendents play a pivotal role in both developing and enabling the vision of their respective school boards. Some of the key duties include (but are not limited to) reviewing and making decisions about the curricula within each school and the district as a whole, overseeing school budgets, assessing improving student performance and achievement, reviewing and revising academic policies, and more. Throughout this process, superintendents are called upon — often on a daily basis — to make difficult decisions, and to be a passionate and effective change agent focused on both short and long-term student success, as well as elevated teacher performance.
If you are aspiring to serve as a superintendent, then here are four key things to keep in mind:
- Gain valuable experience in an administrative or supervisory role.
To succeed as a superintendent, you will need to rely on years of in-depth experience in a senior administrative or supervisory role. For most superintendents, this means serving in a central office capacity and having principal experience. This experience will help you understand and appreciate some of the core duties and responsibilities that superintendents must discharge, such as hiring and supporting colleagues, managing school budgets, setting agendas, and more. While there is no standard rule with respect to how long an individual should serve in a central office position or a principalship before attempting to advance to the role of superintendent, it is generally accepted that at least five years of experience is recommended, though in some cases more experience will be necessary or required.
“One of the most important skills that senior administrators and principals should cultivate if they aspire to eventually serve as a superintendent is leadership,” commented Dr. Shawn Joseph, the President of acclaimed education and equity consulting firm Joseph and Associates. “This involves defining, optimizing and executing a progressive vision that is rooted in student success and teacher support, and which seeks to establish strong ties with the community and other stakeholders.”
2. Tap into the wisdom and support of mentors.
As an aspiring superintendent, you are well-advised to reach out to currently-serving and retired superintendents, and ask for advice and guidance on how they can help you cultivate your career path and prepare for the key challenges ahead.
“Mentors can make a tremendous difference in whether the future is rocky or rewarding for those who want to serve as a superintendent,” commented Dr. Shawn Joseph, who is the author of Finding the Joseph Within and The Principal’s Guide to the First 100 Days of the School Year: Creating Instructional Momentum, which offer insight into the challenges and complexities of leadership roles from the principalship through the superintendent position. “They can also serve as a source of encouragement and inspiration, which is quite important. While serving as a superintendent can certainly be very rewarding, it can also be quite challenging, and some head administrator and principals may be surprised at some of the pushback they can experience from individuals on the school board.”
3. Upgrade your education.
The minimum academic qualification for most superintendent positions is a professional educator’s license, a master’s degree in education, and several years of teaching experience. However, the word “minimum” is important to note. Many qualified educators want to serve as superintendent and the process is competitive. To strengthen your candidacy, you should fortify your academic credentials by obtaining a doctorate degree in education administration. In addition, you may wish to pass the School Superintendent Assessment exam, which measures whether entry-level superintendents have the relevant knowledge, skills and abilities that are considered necessary for competent professional practices.
“What school boards are looking for when they assess a potential superintendent is an impressive combination of academic achievement and experience at both the teaching and senior administrative levels and an ability to collaborate with a multitude of constituencies,” commented Dr. Shawn Joseph, who earned a doctoral degree in educational administration and policy studies from The George Washington University, a master’s degree from The Johns Hopkins University, and a bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania.
4. Fortify your leadership skills.
While your administrative experience and knowledge will certainly help you succeed as a superintendent, whether you flourish or flounder will largely depend on your leadership abilities. As such, you should pursue various formal and informal learning opportunities that help you cultivate your abilities as a leader. This includes working effectively with different stakeholders who may have different perspectives on key issues (especially school funding), and making racial equality a top priority throughout the district and within each school.
“One of the wisest statements ever made about leaders and leadership was given by author, speaker and pastor John Maxwell, who said that no organization will ever exceed the capacity of its leader,” commented Dr. Shawn Joseph, who prior to launching Joseph and Associates served as the Superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools, where he spearheaded several initiatives that led to dramatic improvements in student academic achievement, student engagement and organizational equality. “This is a truth that both superintendents and school boards must embrace — because strong and progressive leadership is ultimately what students want, need, deserve and demand.”