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Pandemic, politics lead some school superintendents to consider career change

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Posted at 1:20 PM, Mar 22, 2022

Many of the people who lead our country's school districts are contemplating a career change.

46% percent of U.S. superintendents are thinking about leaving their current job within the next three years, according to the 2022 "Voice of the Superintendent" survey published in February by EAB.

Most are planning to retire or leave the profession.

"It's a consideration in terms of how this is going to affect school systems," said Dan Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association (AASA). "So many experienced, talented, capable school system leaders are being replaced, in essence, by individuals who want to do the job, and want to do it well, but they don't have the experience."

Longtime educators, from superintendents to teachers and support staff, point to the pandemic as one reason for the stress.

But "a superintendent's job is a political job," according to Jason Grissom, a professor at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College of Education.

Four of five superintendents polled in February said "managing politically divisive conversations" was the job's most challenging aspect.

"You are the person who takes the brunt of the community's dissatisfaction," Grissom said. "And lots of people are dissatisfied because things are really hard at the moment. It's not surprising that we would see people in these top-level leadership positions get to the point where they've had enough."

Domenech agreed. "It was the issue of kids being in school in person or not, then it became the issue of wearing masks, then it was get vaccinated or don't get vaccinated," he said. "It became a 'damned if you do and damned if you don't' situation for superintendents, to the point they were being harassed, they were being threatened."

February's survey laid out four post-pandemic priorities for U.S. superintendents.

  • 56% believe districts should explore automation as a solution to staff shortages.
  • 69% want to evaluate the way schools prepare students for post-secondary success.
  • 89% called for expanded access to mental health care for students.
  • 92% said it is important to market public schools to local communities.

Even with those concerns, most superintendents believe they'll feel better about the job over the next 12 months.

"These are dedicated people. They really do care," Domenech said. "The ones who are there and are sticking to it are doing it because they're committed to the mission. They're committed to being sure that they're the ones that are the champions for the children that they serve."