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Top superintendents: ‘We can’t do this alone’

Superintendents are the leaders of their district. But they cannot will student success. “We can’t do this alone. It requires a village,” says Dr. Steven Webb, superintendent of Vancouver Public Schools in Washington. Success is something Webb knows a little something about.

He is one of four finalists for AASA’s National Superintendent of the Year Award, which will be announced later today at the National Conference on Education in Phoenix. The finalists have been recognized for their leadership and vision. Besides Webb, the finalists this year include:

  • Dr. Pamela Moran, Albermarle County Schools, Charlottesville, Va.
  • Dr. Thomas S. Tucker, Princeton City Schools, Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Dr. Freddie Williamson, Hoke County Schools, Raeford, N.C.

Check out the video below for more about each finalist.

The theme for this year’s conference is “Leading for Excellence.” That sounds a little vague. But after listening to each of this year’s superintendent finalists, it’s clear: no school reforms work absent teamwork and collaboration. The ability to listen, whether in conversations with parents, teachers, students, or staff, is huge.

“When we look at closing the achievement gap and the opportunity gap,” says Tucker, “what’s really missing is family and community engagement.”

We write often on this blog about how important it is for school leaders to listen to and understand the needs of their community. That listening happens on any number of fronts, whether it’s through inviting and responding to community feedback of key school district issues, conducting surveys to measure school climate and quality, or holding focus groups and town hall discussions to include your stakeholders in important district decisions.

But there’s another level of engagement that school leaders sometimes overlook. As important as it is to stay connected to the members of your local school community, it’s also vitally important to network with colleagues in other districts and areas of the country.

As school leaders, we tend to put our heads down, to look to solve the problems directly in front of us. But in between putting out fires and solving hyper-local crises, are you spending enough time talking to your colleagues and sharing promising practices that could help you do your job even better?

This year’s superintendent finalists didn’t get to where they are today by working on an island—communication with their peers and colleagues has proved vital to their success.

“Why recreate something if we can borrow that from another district, another state, because again, this engagement piece allows us to network and have those real conversations,” says Williamson.

Says Moran: Being a superintendent can be “a very lonely job.” But by listening to your community and collaborating with other school leaders who have gone through similar experiences, you can transform it into a collaborative one.

No matter who takes home tonight’s award, you can be certain that everyone on that stage understands the importance of listening to as many ideas from as many sources as possible and, more important, how to use those ideas to move districts forward.

It truly takes an entire community to achieve excellence.

Learn more about engagement and the work of superintendents in this video.

How do you engage your school community to better understand its needs? Tell us in the comments.

Looking for an easy way to bring other community members into the conversation? Let’s Talk! is worth a look.

**Update: On February 11, 2016, Dr. Thomas S. Tucker was named the 2016 Superintendent of the Year.**