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The Role of the Superintendent in Public Education

By Becky Gerdes

Through my superintendent internship experiences in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage

School District and the Dover-Eyota School Districts, as well as from my 20 years of personal

experience as a public-school educator and administrator, I believe that the foundation of th​e

superintendency in the 21st century is tied to the working relationships with the school board,

community groups, teachers, parents and students. The superintendents with whom I worked

displayed excellent communication skills, understood the instructional process and worked to

create functioning, efficient and effective systems to build the financial and educational

foundation of the public-school system.

In reference to the communication competency, I have had experience in engaging in the

use of social media for communication purposes. For example, I have had experiences blogging

and have worked with a team to maintain our facebook and twitter sites for communication

purposes. During my internship, I realized that communication is 115% of the job, whether it is

working with teachers, principals, the public or individual stakeholders. Sometimes the

communication is very public and sometimes it is behind the scenes. Spending time

communicating in a real and authentic way, as well as listening and sharing information, are

critical for any superintendent.

Another important piece of a superintendency is building relationships with the school

board and various community groups; this aligns with the competency focused on policy and

law. The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District has been working intensely with local

realtors. They found out that when they were facing significant budget reductions, the
community and realtors were out in force supporting the school. These are the kind of

relationships that make a critical difference. The job of the superintendent, through a policy and

law lens, is to teach the community why they should value the school, what the school has to

offer and how the school makes a difference for the community, for the state, for the nation and

for the world.

Through my conversations with Superintendent Amoroso, I have learned that she focuses

on differentiating resources and staffing based on building needs, rather than on assigning

resources and staff equally for each school. As educators, we have a moral responsibility to level

the playing field and make sure all of the students are getting what they need. That is a big part

of the superintendent’s job.

In considering the organizational management competency, transparency is a precious

commodity for anybody who is working in the public government sector, but especially for a

superintendent. One example is the school district’s budget. As transparent as districts have

become in publically sharing the budget, there are always changes and new updates. However,

for me, transparency is about being able to connect and relate to people from any walk of life.

Both districts continue to focus on why students need the new technologies that are

offered in schools today. This topic aligns with the competency of judgement and problem

analysis. When we talk about students using iPods, smartboards, ipads or tablet PCs, some

members of the community don’t understand why students need these technology items in the

classroom. These individuals don’t understand the relationship between new technology and

learning. I believe that we need to become more authentic, transparent and educational in
sharing how these new technologies support learning and reach beyond what we’ve been able to

previously accomplish.

The national media has tarnished peoples’ sense of what is happening in the schools

across the country. One way to combat this concern is by being actively involved in

conversation with local, state and nationally-elected officials. This area aligns with the political

influence and governance competency. As a superintendent, one needs to actively engage with

its community members. Both of the superintendents I shadowed seek opportunities to engage

with parents, community members, and elected officials - particularly groups that represent the

more diverse communities. During these interactions, it is important to engage in conversations

about priorities, concerns, and goals for the school.

Superintendents should be lifelong learners. For example, it is important that they stay

connected with the learning work that teachers are trying to accomplish on a day-by-day basis.

In addition, superintendents must develop teams of diverse individuals who bring different skills

and ideas to the table. Although diverse teams may initially struggle to build a sense of

teamwork, in the long run, the collective intelligence and innovation that is produced by diverse

teams is far superior than what most homogeneous teams accomplish. I appreciate people who

challenge me, who propose innovative ideas, and who offer different perspectives about school

and what it needs to accomplish.

The job of a superintendent is to support, facilitate, model and to ensure that learning is at

the center of all decisions and behaviors; I will strive to do this every day as superintendent.

First and foremost, great leaders have a sense of intuition of how to connect with people in such

a way that they can lead from their heart, soul and mind. Superintendents help educate our
young people so that they can lead as they grow into adulthood and eventually become the

leaders of our community. As educators, we want our students to be civic-minded in addition in

addition to the cognitive, critical thinking, and social-emotional skills they gain at school.

It is really that passion-driven leadership that brings people together and causes them to

feel like they are part of a collaborative project and decision. To me, great leadership is about

finding that passion and transferring it to others in the organization as they carry out their work

as well. Working as change agents, superintendents can strengthen school districts through their

professional knowledge and the passion they bring to the position.