July 14, 2008

School Chiefs Increasingly on the Move

By Wendy K. Kleinman, The Oklahoman

Jul. 14--Oklahoma public school superintendents typically stay at their jobs about 5

years, according to an analysis of data from the state Education Department. Last week's appointment of Karl Springer as Oklahoma City schools' superintendent highlighted that issue as people remembered the hospitality and hope they put into John Porter's arrival just a year ago.

The Oklahoma City School District has one of the higher turnover rates in the state, with the average superintendent lasting 2.2 years. Tulsa, the state's largest district, keeps superintendents about 3.1 years.

"It's harder to be a superintendent these days," state schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett said, citing growing state and federal regulations and budget crunches.

Superintendent turnover is an issue facing not only Oklahoma, where one in nine school districts (60 out of 535) will have someone new at the helm this fall, but also across the nation.

"There isn't one reason for this, but national research points to retirement patterns and increased federal accountability mandates as having a hand in it," Garrett said.

A report released last month by the American Association of School Administrators found that nearly 40 percent of superintendents planned to retire within five years.

Researchers also found that 85 percent of the superintendents who were surveyed don't believe there are enough candidates in the pipeline to fill the positions that will open up in the future.

Superintendents statewide last an average of 5.7 years from the time they start serving a district, according to The Oklahoman's analysis.

That average includes more than 400 K-12 districts in existence from 1986 to 2008, but excludes K-8 districts because data for them was not available as far back. The average with K-8 districts factored in is likely lower, Garrett said.

"A lot of them just move after a couple of years," she said. "You see them go there, get some experience and then go on to K-12 districts."

The Oklahoman's analysis showed no notable relationship between average turnover and the size of the districts.

There also were no significant relationships to the change in district enrollment over time, to the current and change in minority enrollment, to the percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and to superintendent salaries.

Revolving door in Muskogee The Muskogee School District has the lowest average tenure: 1.4 years. In fact, the superintendency changed hands 15 times among the nine superintendents in the last 22 years -- some served nonconsecutive terms.

Stacy Alexander, who has served on the Muskogee School Board for a year, said its hard to pinpoint a reason why superintendents might not work out.

"I know that as a parent not involved with the school board at all previously, the previous one -- I can't even remember his name -- he really didn't seem to have it all together. ... The superintendent we have now is wonderful and we certainly hope he plans to stay for a long time," she said.

Too much turnover can cause disruptions, Garrett said.

"Obviously there is a plus to continuity, because every time you have a superintendent leave -- usually -- you have a new superintendent come in and bringing his new team or her new team."

Some buck the trend Still, it's possible for a district to hold onto a superintendent for decades. Eleven districts in the state had the same superintendent from 1986-87 through 2007-08, the years included in the data from the Education Department.

Larry Burdick led the Pryor School District for 40 years before retiring this year. Part of the reason the Woodward-area native said he enjoyed the work for so long is that the community "just became home" -- but it wasn't the only reason.

"Things just have to blend and the relationship between the community and the board of education and the superintendent is extremely important, and in this case it always has been really, really good," Burdick said.

"Sometimes change is good, but I think stability is an asset."

Change on the way? For those who are new to the job this year, Garrett said the Education Department provides training to help district leaders as they embark on "their new and challenging roles."

Garrett said she hopes a bill passed by the Legislature this year that allows educators to come out of retirement and collect both retirement pay and a full salary will bring superintendents back into the fold.


To see more of The Oklahoman, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.newsok.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Oklahoman

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.