Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Do Superintendents Need Classroom Experience?

In recent years, state legislators and school boards nationwide have been paving the way for people with little or no education experience to lead districts.

What do former New York City Superintendent Cathie Black and Aurora, Colo., Superintendent John Barry have in common? They both lack the licenses that most states require of superintendents. They also represent a growing trend of school districts being run by people without any previous classroom experience.

It’s a trend with high-profile hits as well as misses. Barry, a retired U.S. Air Force general, was named superintendent of the year by the Colorado Association of School Executives for turning around an underperforming school district. New York’s Black, a former publishing executive, resigned in April after a brief three-month tenure marked by complaints from parents, teachers and officials that she was unqualified and unable to understand fundamental education issues.

Almost all states except Colorado, North Carolina and Utah technically require superintendents to have not only licenses but also degrees and experience in education. But that’s changing. At least 10 states, including Arizona, Louisiana and Michigan, have enacted legislation in the past decade making it easier for people with little or no education experience to become principals or superintendents. Additionally, more than a dozen states, including New York, offer alternative pathways to certification or waivers for superintendent requirements.

In Oregon, a bill passed this year by the state House would remove the license requirement for superintendents -- allowing them to instead complete a training program once in office. According to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Julie Parrish, the majority of a superintendent’s job doesn’t tap into one’s knowledge of education but instead focuses on things like labor negotiations, public relations and finance. “Some of our school districts have bigger budgets than most of our corporations have,” she says. “Why would I have a shop teacher do that job?”

But Becca Uherbelau of the Oregon Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, notes that districts are increasingly looking to superintendents for guidance on instruction and curriculum: “It just makes good sense that the leader of the school district would have a background in effective instructional practices.”

Nevertheless, there’s been an uptick in the popularity of organizations that provide training for school leaders who lack a background in the classroom. The Broad Superintendents Academy, which trained Colorado’s Barry, has seen a marked increase in applications since it opened in 2002, says Broad Center Executive Director Becca Bracy Knight. Removing the license requirement for superintendents “doesn’t mean that anyone of any background can run a school district,” Knight says. What it means, she believes, is that “you should cast a wide net in order to find the very best people who can.”

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
Special Projects
Sponsored Stories
Sponsored
Workplace safety is in the spotlight as government leaders adapt to a prolonged pandemic.
Sponsored
While government employees, students and the general public had to wait in line for hours in the beginning of the pandemic, at-home test kits make it easy to diagnose for the novel coronavirus in less than 30 minutes.
Sponsored
Governments around the nation are working to design the best vaccine policies that keep both their employees and their residents safe. Although the latest data shows a variety of polarizing perspectives, there are clear emerging best practices that leading governments are following to put trust first: creating policies that are flexible and provide a range of options, and being in tune with the needs and sentiments of their employees so that they are able to be dynamic and accommodate the rapidly changing situation.
Sponsored
Service delivery and the individual experience within health and human services (HHS) is often very siloed and fragmented.
Sponsored
In this episode, Marianne Steger explains why health care for Pre-Medicare retirees and active employees just got easier.
Sponsored
Government organizations around the world are experiencing the consequences of plagiarism firsthand. A simple mistake can lead to loss of reputation, loss of trust and even lawsuits. It’s important to avoid plagiarism at all costs, and government organizations are held to a particularly high standard. Fortunately, technological solutions such as iThenticate allow government organizations to avoid instances of text plagiarism in an efficient manner.
Sponsored
Creating meaningful citizen experiences in a post-COVID world requires embracing digital initiatives like secure and ethical data sharing, artificial intelligence and more.
Sponsored
GHD identified four themes critical for municipalities to address to reach net-zero by 2050. Will you be ready?
Sponsored
As more state and local jurisdictions have placed a priority on creating sustainable and resilient communities, many have set strong targets to reduce the energy use and greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with commercial and residential buildings.