This is a two-part blog post on relationship building specific to the position of the public-school superintendent. The many roles of the superintendent, as well as those sub-groups with whom relationships must be built and nurtured to ensure success in the superintendency, are examined.
In reflective practice on the superintendency, a repeated theme is building relationships. This can take on various appearances dependent upon one’s school district.
In larger metropolitan school districts, the superintendent may possess a role of representative and spend the majority of their time forming partnerships with business and organizational leaders that can benefit the district, while assistant superintendents or directors manage the daily operations.
In a smaller district, the superintendent is still the representative of the school, but will not have as many community leaders with which to work and may be responsible for daily operations.
In both cases, the importance of building, nurturing, and maintaining relationships with various populations is significant to the success of a school district and to the superintendent’s career. Whether the superintendent chooses to do this through strategic planning teams, community forums, or individual visits to community leaders and individual schools, it is crucial to establish one’s identity and leadership style immediately and begin building relationships with crucial groups within the district (Chapman, 1997).
While not all-inclusive, the following are subgroups with which the superintendent will interact in most districts. It will be essential to establish a good rapport and maintain communication to these groups on a continuing basis.
Many of a superintendent’s relationships with colleagues are informal, especially in small districts or in those in which a superintendent has moved up the ranks in the district. But what happens when a beginning superintendent relocates for a position or moves to a new district for career advancement?
The relationships that were in place prior to a move may be maintained through the use of technology (email, texts, phone, etc.). Certainly new staff and community relationships will need to be formed for a superintendent to be successful, but it is also vital for a superintendent to have a support network of professionals from whom to seek advice and act as a sounding board.
Some professional associations provide opportunities for superintendents to collaborate on the day-to-day issues surrounding educational leadership, as well as mentors for beginning superintendents. These groups can become a cohesive learning community that shares ideas, strategies, and best practices. Perhaps most importantly, they can promote feedback and support for each other in what has traditionally been a lonely job (Domenech, 2014).
Even those superintendents who have ties to the district will find themselves in a constant state of relationship building and maintenance as the culture of their districts change.
Dr. Michael Yazurlo, superintendent of Yonkers Public Schools in Yonkers, New York, is a native of Yonkers and began his teaching career there. He also served as a high school principal and is now the superintendent. As a native son of Yonkers, he has seen desegregation, an increase in poverty and language minority students, budget cuts, and a scandal involving a $55 million accounting error prior to his superintendency.
These changes have required Yazurlo to redesign his relationships throughout the years. Through it all, Yazurlo is quoted as saying,
“I maintain positive board relations. The biggest part of a superintendent’s job is to educate the board as to what’s important and why.” (Pascopella, 2015).
Yazurlo’s quote is a good lead in to the next category of building and maintaining positive relationships with the school board. According to the American School Board Journal (July 1992), a relationship among the superintendent and the school board determines the quality of education in a school. Poor superintendent/board relations have a negative impact on programming, staff morale, and district stability.
What may create a rift between a superintendent and one or more members of the school board? Often times it is an attempt by the board to micromanage operations of the school. While this may occur in various areas, personnel and hiring practices are common areas of micromanagement.
How can a superintendent establish to their board that their role is that of policy maker rather than administrator? Communication and training are key. Often, a superintendent may rely upon a good relationship with the board president. This individual likely has been on the board a little longer than other members and has had time to establish a relationship with the superintendent and other members. If new members are elected or appointed that are attempting to pursue personal agendas, the president is in a position of authority to redirect other members when necessary.
In part two of our post, we will examine additional groups with whom the superintendent must nurture relationships.
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Chapman, (1997). Becoming a Superintendent, Challenges of School District Leadership. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, Prentice Hall.
Domenech (2014). Cohort Skill Building for the Superintendency. School Administrator, 71(5), 42. EBSCO 97765012.
Norton, Webb, Dlugosh, Sybouts (1996). The School Superintendency, New Responsibilities, New Leadership. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, Allyn and Bacon.
Pascopella, (2015). No Room for Ghosts. District Administration, 51 (5), 45-49.