ICYMI: Aspiring Superintendents

By David Norman

Moderator: Thomas Leahy, Director of Executive Searches for IASB
Presenters: Richard Voltz, Associate Director for Professional Development, IASA; Dave Love, Consultant; Jim Helton, Consultant; Catherine Finger, Consultant; and Tim Buss, Consultant, Executive Searches, IASB


This Aspiring Superintendents panel session from the 2018 Joint Annual Conference focused on individuals who are actively applying, or planning to apply, for vacant superintendent positions, especially those new to the position. The panelists work with boards of education in the process of searching for and hiring superintendents. 

The panelists discussed the resources available for individuals looking to enter the superintendency. These include one-day seminars that take place in the Chicago suburbs and central Illinois, as well as week-long workshops. Each of these professional development seminars prepares individuals to apply for a superintendency and to understand what to expect.

IASA Associate Director for Professional Development Richard Voltz discussed concepts that individuals should be thinking about as they apply for superintendent positions. First, candidates should be themselves and not look to conform to a persona they believe the district is looking for. Should you get the position, Voltz advised, you will eventually go back to your true self, so be sure that the person you are presenting is an accurate reflection of who you are as a leader and as a person. Second, the easiest superintendent position a candidate will get is the first one. This is because first-time candidates are able to tell their current employers that they are looking without an existing board/superintendent relationship. A candidate choosing to go for a second position must first understand the potential impact of the application process and carefully balance the relationship with the current BOE. 

The process followed by IASB is confidential until candidate names are provided to the board of education that is searching for a superintendent. Their process does involve asking the BOE to keep names confidential, but once it gets narrowed to a few candidates it is no longer confidential, because at this point in the process, references must be contacted. 
Candidates do own their work by taking responsibility for decisions, whether they are good, bad, or ugly. In superintendent searches, as in life, being accountable to yourself is important, because you are also accountable to stakeholders. Although IASB asks that boards be cautious about Googling candidates, this does happen. Owning your history is an important attribute of a candidate. 

Candidates who apply for positions should, as best they can, understand the ramifications of the position on their lives. Should you get to the final round, be ready to accept the position. Panelist Thomas Leahy suggested candidates complete a self-assessment, including where you and your family are with taking on the role of a superintendent. This should include a willingness to relocate, understanding the impact on your family, and fully preparing to be invested in the position that will likely take considerably more time than the one you are currently in. 

In interviews, candidates should have questions ready, especially for the second interview. The first is typically run by the board and they may or may not offer an opportunity for questions. Regardless, be prepared to discuss the direction you hope to take and how you will lead the district there. BOEs do not want to hear about your current place of work, they want to know how you will fit in their district. Think about your materials, how will you tell your story, and how can you help this district reach your vision. If you really want to be in that district, prepare, plan, and do your homework on the district itself. 

When you get that first position, a district is going to pay you more than the residents within the district expect, and more than most residents make. You should not apologize for that. Superintendents need to understand and ensure they are being compensated correctly and appropriately. The panelists recommended that candidates contact IASA for help with understanding and negotiating salary, fringe benefits, and contract language. 

Boards of education require, and candidates need to keep in mind, that everything a person does as a superintendent is going to be analyzed closely. So, act honestly, truthfully, ethically, and with conviction at all times. 

David Norman is Assistant Principal of Student Services for St. Charles North High School in St. Charles CUSD 303 and a participant in the Educational Administration Intern program at the 2018 Joint Annual Conference.