By Joe Nathan
From Anoka-Hennepin to Richfield, Stillwater, Waconia, International Falls, Houston and all over the state, more than 50 of the 331 Minnesota school districts will have new superintendents in the 2014-15 school year.
We hear a lot about student mobility. But outside of professional meetings, there has not been much notice of, or discussion about, what shifting of superintendents may mean for students, educators and communities.
Sometimes new superintendents bring fresh approaches to their systems. They see the importance of retaining some things and trying new strategies to help more young people be well-prepared for some form of college – be it a one-, two- or four-year program – for careers and for active, positive citizenship. Looking at some superintendents who have been in their districts for a few years, for example:
–Lakeville Supt. Lisa Snyder responded positively when several teachers proposed a new elementary “school within school.” She recognized that many teachers have good ideas.
–Forest Lake Supt. Linda Madsen has worked closely with local charter schools, creating collaborations that expand opportunities for students.
–Farmington Supt. Jay Haugen applied to and received a waiver from the Minnesota Department of Education to try new approaches that he feels will help some students.
–Robbinsdale Supt. Aldo Sicoli has just received an award from the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education. The Alliance recognized him for a commitment to justice and equity. As an example, Sicoli helped increase the percentage of the district’s students taking the ACT college entrance test from about 39 percent in 2007 to 89 percent in 2013.
According to Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, the changes continue a recent trend. Amoroso shared MASA statistics showing that each school year since 2008, there have been at least 50 superintendent openings. Although Amoroso and I have sometimes disagreed, we can agree that being a superintendent is “very political,” as he said. I would add it’s very challenging. MASA’s list of superintendent changes for fall 2014 is found here: http://bit.ly/UnDoLd.
Amoroso thinks the changes are primarily due to retirements. But in some cases, he explained: “There can be times when it’s in everyone’s best interest that the superintendent goes elsewhere. That’s good for the superintendent and good for the system.”
Asked about the numerous changes in superintendents, Denise Specht, president of the teachers union Education Minnesota, told me via email: “We hope school board members will consider the advice of their local educators when picking their new superintendents. We know from experience that hiring a superintendent with both expertise and a collaborative spirit is key for creating a great team of educators.”
Yes, a “collaborative spirit” is very helpful. So is a willingness to look at what’s going well and what can or should be improved. As then President John Kennedy explained in a 1963 speech: “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, [email protected]