Looking for Leaders
The state of the urban superintendency
Turnover at the Top
Being the superintendent of an urban school district is a lot like being the head coach of a National Football League team. Both jobs come with long hours and large salaries. Urban superintendents, like coaches, face intense pressure to perform and operate under the constant scrutiny of the public and the media. And just like NFL teams, many big-city systems find themselves changing leaders every three to five years.
In the Interim
A buzz is in the air at Macario Garcia Elementary School in north central Houston. The sign outside welcomes the visiting dignitary. Parents wait to take pictures of their children posing with the man of the hour. In most districts, an interim superintendent is not greeted with such open arms. But if nothing else, Houston has proven to be an exception in the education world over the past decade. And so the visit by Abelardo Abe Saavedra feels like a combination of political rally and coronation.
Contracts and Compensation
A shortage of candidates for top school positions, combined with increasing expectations for the job, has driven salaries up and forced boards to offer more contract extras than ever before. Desperate to latch onto someone, many boards resort to creative financing—even turning to local businesses to subsidize salaries—to obtain and retain the best and the brightest.
Learning to Lead
Superintendents in the nation's largest school districts employ more people and manage larger annual budgets than many Fortune 500 companies. But while all superintendents are responsible for leading students to academic success, there are vast differences between heading an urban and a suburban school district—enough for those with experience in both seats to classify them as two distinctly different jobs.