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Tuesday / September 25

So Now You’re the Superintendent: Getting Organized to Lead

As superintendent, you are responsible for moving the district forward. It is a cycle of continuous improvement with each year building on the successes of the previous one. During your first year it is critical to set in place the elements for this forward movement. Of primary importance is the focus you place on teaching and learning. This can best be achieved through good decision making, goal setting and evaluation processes.

How you organize the management structures and the decision making processes will demonstrate your leadership style and priorities. As you organize the district, be sensitive to its traditions and culture. Only make changes you believe will have a positive influence on the work you are doing.

Effective decision making, goal setting and evaluation procedures assist you in your work. They help you establish clear lines of responsibility and accountability and focus the district on its mission of improved student learning.

The following points will assist you, a new superintendent, in getting organized to lead and move the district forward:

  • Reflect on the knowledge gained through your transition to the district. Use your first impressions of the district’s history, values, culture, strengths and challenges as a guide in developing your goals and moving forward.
  • Meet regularly with board members, parents, community members, students and staff to learn their expectations for you and the district. Test their perceptions against your perceptions.
  • Set high professional standards and expectations for yourself and your staff. You are a role model that others will emulate.
  • Review management job descriptions and the formal and informal lines of authority and responsibility. Learn how important decisions are made in the district. Involve others as you make decisions.
  • Understand the role goal setting and evaluation play in moving the district forward. Review the district’s strategic plan or long term goal setting process.
  • Set annual district goals and ensure evaluations are based on achieving those goals. Prepare for your evaluation as superintendent by understanding the board’s expectations and performance goals. Validate and build on the positive accomplishments of those who preceded you. The district did not begin with your arrival!
  • Understand the importance of developing effective meeting schedules and agendas for the various individuals and groups with which you work. Your efficiency sets a standard for all to follow.
  • Master the district’s budget; learn how it drives (or limits) the instructional program. Understand the relationship that exists between Human Resources and Business and the importance of position control.
  • Focus on teaching and learning by gaining a thorough understanding of the district’s curriculum and instructional policies and practices. Use assessment data to improve teaching and learning in each classroom.
  • Implement a school site visitation schedule. Visit classrooms on a regular basis, getting to know staff and students. Site visits allow you to see teaching and learning in practice.
  • Meet with support staff and understand the role they play in a smooth running district.

Getting organized to lead effectively is a challenging task. You must learn to work productively with the staff, board, parents and community leaders: everyone is counting on you to move the district forward!

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Written by

Mary Frances Callan and Bill Levinson are experienced superintendents with over thirty years of superintendent experience. They are the authors of Achieving Success for New and Aspiring Superintendents: A Practical Guide, which was written specifically for experienced principals and district office administrators who want to become superintendents.

They are committed to the belief that the more knowledgeable an administrator is about the superintendent position before seeking the position the more likely they will obtain a position and be successful in their first, most challenging year.

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