Preparing for What’s Next
School Administrator, September 2021

“Superintendent preparation programs must introduce new thinking about inclusive instructional design, organizational learning and power distribution. But the most urgent change would require a renewed focus on the political part of the job — media relations, union relations, school board relations, community relations and cross-sector coalition building.”

JENNIFER CHEATHAM, professor, Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and former superintendent, Madison, Wis.

“Through the pandemic, we’ve learned superintendents now must be community leaders who engage stakeholders that include families, school board members, school district employees, union representatives and community organizations to collaboratively address challenges and work toward solutions. Specific learning on team building and how to distribute leadership across organizations to develop and implement community-wide solutions will help superintendents to con-front future challenges.”

REBECCA THESSIN, associate professor of education, George Washington University, and former administrator, Montgomery County, Md., Public Schools

“The pandemic truly showed to the world the centrality of schools to our economy and how school buildings themselves were the entry point for so many social services — academics, meals, child care, social-emotional support and more — for children who need them most. We need to be bolder in policymaking. That means transforming the school calendar, implementing culturally relevant curricula and using this moment of crisis to engender change that closes longstanding inequities.”

JULIA RAFAL-BAER, chief operating officer, Chiefs for Change

“The students and families served by a district should have a meaningful decision-making seat at the table as superintendents make decisions. On a related note, it is important to understand historicities evoked during events like a pandemic that impact the way a given community defines and articulates needs. That is to say, it is necessary to develop deep understandings of a context a superintendent is serving — beyond basic demographics or histories.”

ANTHONY CRAIG, professor of practice, University of Washington College of Education

“The pandemic has provided an alert to the need to begin anticipating crises so severe that schools are closed and superintendents could be driven from their offices, while some politicians evade responsibility. Superintendents will need to lead amidst these crises, as many did this past year. For their part, schools of education will need to offer future district leaders concrete professional development around crisis management.”

JAMES HARVEY, executive director, National Superintendents Roundtable