The majority of school superintendents are not elected, but that doesn’t make them lesser public officials. They are still accountable to the communities they serve.
That accountability most often comes at the hands of an elected school board, whose job it is to hire the superintendent and bless, or not, their proposed plans and programs.
In a handful of school districts, however, that responsibility rests with the general public by way of popular election. Currently three states—Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi—have school districts in which superintendents are voted into office. A bill recently voted down by the state senate in Tennessee would have made the Volunteer State the fourth, essentially reversing a 1992 law that handed selection power to elected school boards in select counties.
Election vs. selection
Supporters of the Tennessee bill say electing superintendents restores power to local citizens, as opposed to centralizing power with a select few. Tim Burchett, mayor of Knox County, suggested general school superintendent elections might be one way to keep undue influence from creeping into the selection process. He praised the bill for eliminating “consolidated power among some of the wealthy unelected power brokers in our communities.”
The bill’s opponents said that requiring school leaders to run for office could potentially distract them from their core mission: educating students. Still others suggested it would be harder to remove an elected school leader from office in cases of poor performance or misconduct.
While lawmakers in some states debate the merits of an elected versus appointed superintendent, it’s incumbent upon the school leader, regardless of how he or she takes office, to earn the community’s trust.
Looking to earn the support of your community ahead of an important election or school board vote? Here’s three tips to win your community over.
Create a feedback loop
The first step is to understand exactly what people need. Invite feedback, complaints, and other comments to align your district’s priorities with those of voters and others. Empower community members to participate in your decisions by active listening and respond to their concerns, one conversation at a time.
Take the temperature
Check in with your community on a regular basis. Consider the use of surveys to gauge how parents and others view your performance. Look for trends to ensure you’re on top of emerging issues. And communicate back out about your findings.
Explain your vision
Your community wants you to listen, but they also want you to set a clear vision for success. Use the feedback you receive to inform future strategy. Clearly communicate what your vision is and why you’re implementing it. Close the feedback loop by responding to community members who take the time to weigh in on your plan.
Whether elected or appointed, superintendents answer to the communities they serve. How do you handle feedback and criticism from your constituents? Tell us in the comments.
Looking for a way to gather feedback and hold yourselves and others accountable? Start here.