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Friday / September 18

So Now You’re the Superintendent: Transitioning to Your New District

The time between when you were hired as superintendent and your official starting date is your transition period. Transition times vary depending upon when you were hired. Ideally you have one or two months for the transition. Make effective use of whatever time is available. Plan your transition as carefully as you planned for your application and interviews.

Your transition is important to your future success. It allows the board, staff and community to learn about you and your leadership style. It allows you to assess the strengths of the district and the challenges you face as superintendent. Listen, observe and read.

Learning more about the strengths and needs of the district prior to your first day on the job is helpful. It allows time to map out your work for the coming year. Do not be surprised if the issues are different than those described by the Board and community during the search process.

Recognize that during this transition you are judged by everything you do and everything you fail to do; whom you choose to meet and whom you do not. Judgments regarding your leadership style and “fit” for the district are made. Do not be surprised if everyone is not equally pleased over your appointment. If you were an outside candidate there will be those who preferred an inside candidate, with the contrary also true.

The following points cover the major issues you face during a transition:

✓ Plan your departure from your current position with care. In this age of instant communications, how you leave an organization can and will have an impact on how you are received in your new district.

✓ Use the transition to learn all you can about the district while leaving the day to day decisions to the current superintendent. Review your transition plan with your board.

✓ Meet with a broad array of important district and community leaders. Develop a set of questions for all and listen carefully to the responses. Do not make quick judgments or offer immediate solutions to complex problems.

✓ Develop an ongoing list of all the issues and perspectives you learn. Use these to assess the strengths of the district and identify the areas that need improvement. Always build on the district’s successes.

✓ Work with your executive assistant to gather needed materials and information. Understand the important role your assistant plays.

✓ Learn about the personal issues you may face and how to address them: where to live, where your children should attend school, role of spouse/partner, maintaining friendships.

Your transition is when you recognize the realities and complexities of the work. Some nights you may leave the district wondering why you wanted to be a superintendent. At these times remember why you accepted this position–to improve the quality of education for the students of the district. Finally, realize that no matter how hard you prepare for this change, something you did not plan on will happen. This is life. The best advice is to laugh and find humor in the situation.

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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