In education, a superintendent (also known as a chief school administrator in many states) is an individual that has executive oversight and administration rights, usually within an educational entity or organization.
Generally, public school district superintendents are selected by a school board of a local school district. As chief executive officer of the public school, the superintendent has oversight for what is often one of the larger businesses within the community the district serves. They are typically given overall responsibility for personnel selection and appointment, preparation of operating budgets, and implementation of school policies and regulations. Ideally, the school superintendent will be knowledgeable in areas of school law, school finance and investment strategies, school construction, technology, curriculum and teaching and learning styles and methods, team-building, and skill at seeing "the big picture", able to pull many smaller elements to a cohesive and productive whole.
Most superintendents are members on the board of education (school board) of their school district, but they usually cannot vote as members of the board.
While there are exceptions, many school districts now require, or desire, that their superintendent hold a doctorate degree. A few teachers also have doctorate degrees but this is not common, nor required, for employment at the K-12 levels. However, even though a few teachers have doctoral degrees, they are nevertheless paid a lesser amount than their district's superintendent earns. This difference in pay is due to the length of an annual teacher contract compared with the length of the annual superintendent's contract, as well as the difference in levels of responsibility and accountability, and breadth of overall knowledge required to perform each job.
Depending on the state in which they serve, a public school superintendent might also be referred to as "chief education officer", or "chief executive officer". A school superintendent may be male or female.
A public school district superintendent is hired by the school board of a local school district. A search consultant is usually hired to assist the school board in locating desirable candidates from which to choose. Before a school superintendent is hired input from the staff that he will oversee, and from the community he will serve, is usually sought out by the school board via a series of public meetings. During these meetings various groups are polled to determine which skills, attributes, education, and qualities they desire in their school superintendent. Customarily, the candidates chosen will be subjected to a battery of interviews with various representative groups, including non-certified school personnel, teachers, administrators, central office personnel, community and business representatives, and finally the school board. The school board usually receives input from representatives from each of the group interviews with each of the candidates, taking their thoughts into consideration as they select their new superintendent. The entire process of hiring a new school superintendent typically ranges from six months to a year, from beginning of the process to completion.
School superintendents do not have the same contract protection as other school employees, and do not have tenure or union protection, as is common for other school staff. Depending on local custom, a superintendent may be given a one year contract, two year contract, or three year contract. Three year contracts are the most common. Regardless of the length of their contract, however, the superintendent is evaluated annually by the school board and their employment may be terminated without proof of just cause.
Public school superintendents are held responsible for everything that happens in every school within their district, from elementary, and middle schools, through high school (K-12). He is accountable to the school board on behalf of everyone else employed by the district - "the buck stops here".
The school superintendent, though often not actively involved in the early part of employee searches, is ultimately held responsible for hiring the best people available to work in every area of the schools including special education, teachers, migrant or ESL, teaching assistants, principals, maintenance, housekeeping, special programs, finance, and facilities. Therefore he is often involved at some stage in the hiring, and firing, processes.
Each school within his district has its own operating budget, which the building administrators (principals) submit to the superintendent and the school board for final approval. It is the responsibility of the superintendent to oversee budgets for all of the schools in his district, making sure there is enough money to go around, that each school has a fair amount to spend, and that it is spent wisely and correctly according to various state and federal laws. A well-qualified superintendent with strong financial skills may often be able anticipate financial difficulties for his district and steer his district through difficult times by implementing proactive measures. Through the guidance and advice of a financially gifted superintendent a district will often be able to make, or save, many times his annual salary by careful oversight and guidance of his district's finance officers.
There are many laws, rules, policies, and regulations at each of the local, state, and federal levels which he is responsible to know and follow. They pertain in part to use of funds, contractual obligations, federal requirements, state requirements, education requirements, special need students, state graduation requirements, treatment of employees and treatment of students. If the rules and regulations are not followed the superintendent is, ultimately, the one held responsible for oversights, errors, omissions, or illegal activities during "his watch". It is his job to make sure all funds are used properly, according to many different rules, and that it is not wasted. Public schools have very rigid guidelines about how money may be spent, depending on from where it was received. He must make sure proper procedures are followed, and that checks and balances are in place to protect the money provided to operate his district.
It is important that he knows his state senator and state representative so he can help them understand how the laws they make will affect schools within his district. An effective superintendent cultivates and maintains association with his legislators and is diligent to remain knowledgeable about past, pending, and future legislative actions that affect his particular district and community. Not uncommonly a law that will help a particular school in one area of the state, or of a certain size or demographic, will have a detrimental effect on another school in another area of the state, of a certain size, or of differing demographics. It is the responsibility of the school superintendent to protect the education of the students in the various schools for which he is responsible. He is their guardian. Often school superintendents also serve on state committees to advise the legislature as they make decisions that affect public schools
Most school superintendents also serve on several local, county and state committees and boards, many of which are not related to education. This is an important part of their job for the purpose of networking, understanding the community in which he lives, and for public relations on behalf of the local school district.
The superintendent is (basically) superior officer of all the principals, managers, and administrators, as well as the people who report to them, in all the schools - "everyone's boss" in the district. One of his responsibilities is to work with, and improve, the team of administrators and managers employed within his district. His goal is to develop them into a cohesive team, coordinated between grades K-12 in bus routes, curriculum, lunch schedules, activities, outcomes, and schedules - every team member focused in purpose with a mutual respect for, and understanding of, how they interconnect, so that all work together for a common good and outcome rather than establishment of smaller kingdoms within the district.
He is supposed to be sure everything that happens in every school located in his district, is done correctly and in a way that is best for all students, regardless of their socio-economic status, age, gender, race, creed, or innate abilities.
It is his job to be sure that everyone working in the K-12 public school system is striving to make schools a good place to be – whether they are bus drivers, kitchen staff, janitorial saff, secretarial staff, maintenance personnel, are teachers or principals, or central office staff. In order for this to happen, he must develop an encompassing and working knowledge and understanding about every aspect of his district that ensures everyone employed by the district is doing a good job on behalf of the community and all students, collectively, and that the students are learning to their capabilities.
He is responsible for contract negotiations with both certified and non-certified personnel within his district, as well as oversight of contract provisions. Some superintendents perform as Chief Negotiators on behalf of their district during contract negotiations and do not hire outside negotiators. Successful negotiators tend to have developed a level of mutual trust and respect with school employees prior to contract negotiations. Developing mutual trust and respect with school employees, as well as with the community, is an important aspect of the school superintendent's job.
It is also a superintendent’s responsibility to produce schools that provide a positive and a safe environment for the people who work there, as well as the students that attend.
Especially in smaller and mid-sized schools, it is common for students who have made choices that compromise the safety or well-being of others to be required to have a hearing with the superintendent. He must weigh the right of every child to an education, with many considerations in mind. Occasionally it is his responsibility to revoke the privilege of attending school with the larger good in mind. This is not a decision easily made. Even then, however, the superintendent is required by law to see that the student is provided an opportunity to receive an alternate way to receive his/her education, which is at additional cost to the district, even though additional revenue is not received to cover the additional cost of educating these children.
Likewise when teachers, or other staff, make choices that compromise their trust with the community, or the education of the students, they often have a hearing with the superintendent. He, again, must weigh the charge leveled against the employee with many considerations in mind. He must weigh the education of his students against the legal rights of the employee, always attempting to do what is right while "keeping the main thing the main thing" -- that is, the education and well-being of the students. Many times this balancing act adds additional cost to the district, as well, without receiving additional revenue to cover the costs.
He must manage his district in a manner than he can be confident all certified personnel have current certificates qualifying them to work. He is charged with overseeing local homeschools, and local charter and magnet schools who reside within the boundaries of his district are meeting certain state expectations, even if they are not operationally part of his district. State and federal requirements for homeschools, charter, and magnet schools vary in significant ways from state and federal requirements for public schools.
Superintendents are required to be knowledgeable about law as it pertains to public schools, and be able to interpret laws wisely and correctly. His responsibility is to protect his school districts from legitimate law suits, and serve as representative for his district if it is sued. It is his responsibility to answer for whatever caused the lawsuit, and fix it if it needs fixed.
It is his responsibility to respond appropriately to media, including television and newspaper reporters. He should be skilled in communication and able to provide answers that are mindful of legal restrictions, honest, and that the public can understand.
He is required to keep the local school board informed, to educate them about issues that pertain to their district, and to guide them when appropriate so they are able to make decisions that are good for their district while keeping the district out of trouble with any of many entities. At the same time he must be able to work with, listen to, and be responsive to their many different – and often opposing – ideas, agendas, and priorities.
In some ways a school superintendent’s job is as much an art, as it is skill, education, or technical knowledge. For this reason, experience is an often considered a desired quality. One example, though a small one: he must be able to hire personnel on a legally-binding contract long before he will have received information from the state reporting the revenues that the district will receive for the next school year, or know what his student populations will be, for the following school year. Wisdom and a "feel" that comes from experience play an important part in this ability to draw conclusions about the future without proof or concrete data.
Many school superintendents began their careers as teachers in the classroom, then served as a building principal, and sometimes in a subordinate role in the central district office, before becoming a superintendent. However some local school boards select school superintendents from totally different backgrounds, usually from the military or business sectors, though this is not a common practice.
Most school superintendents have a Bachelor's degree in education, and a Master's degree in school administration. Many also have a Doctorate in school administration, though not all do. All must hold special certification in their state and pass background checks with law enforcement agencies.
A typical workday might include many, or all, of these elements. A typical work week, including civic and public responsibilities, for most superintendents is 65 or more hours, while school is in session.
6:30 - 7:00 a.m meeting with local business people or go to one of the schools for a visit with staff
8:00 go to office, respond to phone calls and messages Check financial reports. Look over the latest test scores. If test scores are not very good, he has to give reason to several entities as to why they aren’t good and how he plans to make them better.
10:00 Expulsion hearings, meeting with union representatives about a personnel matter, or meeting with state auditors
11:30 Write article for newspaper, or respond to questions from a media source.
12:00 Attend Chamber of Commerce meeting or another committee meeting on which he serves at the local level. Or have lunch at one of the schools with students or staff.
1:00 look at more reports, call the State Representative about a new law that was going to be bad for his schools if it passed in the legislature.
2:00 Respond to four parents and/or staff member who have come to his office with problems or questions; conference call about insurance for his schools; meeting about changing bus routes.
6:00 Attend meeting with a task force committee about building a new school or addressing crowding concerns
7:00 Attend a school open house, drama presentation, concert or ball game at one or more of the schools in his district
9:30 Home for dinner
Usually the months of July and August, and during teacher and student seasonal breaks (spring/winter) the typical work week will have shortened hours such as 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and a 40 hour work week is more common.
School superintendents' contracts vary somewhat in detail between districts, but all contracts are for a 12-month work-year, as compared with teachers who are contracted for a 9-month work year with seasonal breaks. The way salaries are earned, and the way in which they are paid, is very different between teachers and school superintendents. As late as the 1960s and 1970s, teachers were often paid only during the months in which they were employed by the school – usually September through May. Teachers had to either save money to tide them over during the summer months of June, July, and August, when school was not in session, or find other employment. Many teachers had to find other jobs during the summer, such as working in restaurants, or doing farm work. It is common, now, for teachers to be paid year-round for the work they perform while school is in session, to alleviate the hardships of not being employed by the district during the summer months. This is done by withholding a portion of their wages during the months in which they work, and paying it to them during the summer months when school is not in session. It is important to realize that teachers are not paid for months when they do not work - a portion of their wages has simply been held back to provide them income during the months school is not in session. This method of providing summer income also permits many teachers to pursue Continuing Education Classes during some portion of the school summer vacation. Year-round schools are in session the same number of days as traditional schools. The difference in designation relates to when, and how, breaks are taken. Student-teacher contact time is regulated by state law and remains the same in both cases.
As compared to teacher contracts a school superintendent is paid for a 12-month working contract, compared to the teacher 9-month work-year contract. During the summer months, even though school is not in session there is much work to be done. Reports are analyzed, audits performed, needs evaluated and prioritized, goals set, replacement employees are hired, buildings are repaired and maintenance performed that cannot be easily done when students are present. Summer is the time that superintendents make sure groundwork is laid and plans finalized for the coming school year. Most of what happens during the school year is prepared well in advance, often during the summer months, when school is not in session and students and teachers are not in school.
Depending on experience of the school superintendent, most superintendents receive from 10 to 20 days a year of paid vacation. Their contract period is usually from July 1 through June 30. They customarily may take vacation time at any time of the year, so long as when they take it no responsibilities are left undone. Superintendents routinely maintain contact via email and cell phone with their district even on weekends, holidays, and vacations with few exceptions. Only rarely is someone unable to contact the superintendent and he ‘checks’ in regularly, even when vacationing or out of town for meetings or conferences.
Most school boards require that their school superintendent live within the boundaries of their local school district. Building principals may or may not be so required, though it is not an uncommon practice. Teachers usually do not have this restriction on employment.