(Host) This year nine of Vermont’s 64 school superintendents are new to their jobs. That turnover is expected to increase over the next five years as 40% of the state’s school superintendents reach retirement age. Now there’s a new initiative to head off a shortage of school leaders in Vermont.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports.
(Zind) If you like working long hours and attending lots of evening meetings, you might consider a job as a school superintendent.
(David Ford) “We offer jobs for leaders of 50-70 hours a week. Superintendents can expect three evenings out on a normal week, responding to as many as seven or eight different boards. We offer salary gradients that don’t compare very favorably, nationally.”
(Zind) David Ford heads the Vermont Education Leadership Alliance. Last spring Ford polled districts that were shopping for new superintendents.
(Ford) “They were reporting average size applicant pools of twelve people. Of the pool, the immediate screen showed that less than half of them were qualified to do the work. That is almost a 50% reduction than it was six or seven years ago.”
(Zind) Ford says a Vermont school superintendent’s job is difficult and complex. Superintendents have to answer to the demands of parents, special interest groups and government regulators. In most states, they also answer to a single school board. But in Vermont, a superintendent may have to work with as many as seven or eight school boards in a district.
Many school boards have high turnover rates and new members are often unclear about their roles. Ford says the confusion can create a difficult working environment. It accounts for the fact that most of the superintendents starting in new jobs this year are familiar faces. Last year they were superintendents at other districts in the state. Ford says they moved because they were unhappy in their previous jobs.
To stem the turnover and make the job more attractive to people considering a career as a superintendent, the Vermont Education Leadership Alliance is working with five districts around the state on a yearlong pilot project to train school board members in supporting superintendents. Ford hopes the effort will help make life easier for both superintendents and board members.
(Ford) “If people understand their role as a policy maker, if they’re on the board, then they might be adverse to trying to do micro-management. So we’re working on the clarification of roles and responsibilities and the level of organizational trust that can be developed in a school district, with the hope that we will reduce turnover and encourage aspiring principles, superintendents and school board members to come forward.”
(Zind) Ford hopes the effort to working with school board members combined with recruitment and mentoring of potential school leaders will reduce turnover and replace the superintendents who’ll be retiring in the coming years.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.