50 schools will have new superintendents this fall

They will bring new ideas, approaches

Nathan, Joe 01-11 4CJoe Nathan, Education Columnist

From Anoka-Hennepin to Richfield, Stillwater, Waconia, International Falls, Houston and all over the state, more than 50 of the 331 Minnesota school districts will have new superintendents in the 2014-15 school year.

We hear a lot about student mobility. But outside of professional meetings, there has not been much notice of, or discussion about, what shifting of superintendents may mean for students, educators and communities.

Some of the new superintendents are bringing fresh approaches to their systems. They see the importance of retaining some things and trying new strategies to help more young people be well-prepared for some form of college – be it a one-, two- or four-year program – for careers and for active, positive citizenship. For example:

•Lakeville Superintendent Lisa Snyder responded positively when several teachers proposed a new elementary “school within school.” She recognized that many teachers have good ideas.

•Forest Lake Superintendent Linda Madsen, who was promoted to her post in 2009, has worked closely with local charter schools, creating collaborations that expand opportunities for students.

•Farmington Superintendent Jay Haugen applied to and received a waiver from the Minnesota Department of Education to try new approaches that he feels will help some students.

•Robbinsdale Superintendent Aldo Sicoli has just received an award from the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education. The Alliance recognized him for a commitment to justice and equity. Sicoli has helped produce changes that mean students are better prepared for college.

For example, of the district’s students who took the ACT college entrance test, the percentage who also took the full battery of college readiness courses increased from about 39 percent in 2007 to 89 percent in 2013.

According to Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, the changes continue a recent trend. Amoroso shared MASA statistics showing that each school year since 2008, there have been at least 50 superintendent openings.

Although Amoroso and I have sometimes disagreed, we can agree that being a superintendent is “very political,” as he said. I would add it’s very challenging. MASA’s list of superintendent changes for fall 2014 is found here: http://bit.ly/UnDoLd.

Amoroso thinks the changes are primarily due to retirements. But in some cases, he explained: “There can be times when it’s in everyone’s best interest that the superintendent goes elsewhere. That’s good for the superintendent and good for the system.”

Asked about the numerous changes in superintendents, Denise Specht, president of the teachers union Education Minnesota, told me via email: “We hope school board members will consider the advice of their local educators when picking their new superintendents. We know from experience that hiring a superintendent with both expertise and a collaborative spirit is key for creating a great team of educators.”

Yes, a “collaborative spirit” is very helpful. So is a willingness to look at what’s going well and what can or should be improved.

As then President John Kennedy explained in a 1963 speech: “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome atjoe@centerforschoolchange.org.

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