Why would a new superintendent want to lead your school district?

More Texas school boards will face the challenge of finding — and retaining — superintendents after a wave of departures from nine major North Texas districts, including Dallas, Richardson, Plano and Fort Worth.

Recruiting, hiring and managing a superintendent is one of the biggest responsibilities of school boards. Ideally, board members select a strong leader with vision, and then guide and support that leader’s efforts to improve student learning.

Can a superintendent still succeed in this role given the complexity of today’s world and the ubiquity of district politics? Yes. But setting up a superintendent to succeed requires careful consideration. This requires board members to understand their role and the superintendent’s role, and then hire and manage accordingly. You have to be clear about the measures of success from the start.

Council members should begin by asking the following questions: Why would a strong leader be interested in working for this district? Do adults in the district explicitly commit to preparing students for their next steps and measuring progress? Would the candidates think they could succeed, given the dynamics of the board and the community?

Districts need strong leaders in their superintendents, but they also need high-quality board-level governance practices, research-based innovations to strengthen scholars, and a strong community ecosystem to surround the district. Support.

These intertwined elements certainly stood out to us last year when we looked at Texas school districts for the George W. Bush Institute’s Texas Story Projecta review of district progress in three Texas cities – Austin, Dallas and Houston.


We define governance as the actions and priorities of the school board and the opportunistic use of legislation and policies by the district to improve student learning. Good governance means that all adults are focused on student learning and share a commitment to using student achievement data to measure whether students are getting what they need to stay on the academic path.

Dallas ISD governance began to stabilize as civic organizations recruited reformist board candidates over the past decade, including Mike Morath, now Texas Education Commissioner. Elections in recent cycles have resulted in a council largely focused on student academic success.

Over the past decade, reform-minded board members have hired Mike Miles as superintendent to improve campus leadership and classroom instruction. And they brought back Michael Hinojosa to succeed Miles and build on his reforms, while expanding school choice. They also support research-backed innovations to improve student achievement.

DISD is one of the first districts in the nation to announce it will hold itself accountable for student success after graduation, recognizing that a high school diploma alone is no longer enough for recent graduates to support to their needs and those of their families. The board’s support for this policy, which builds on the success of Dallas ISD’s P-Tech and Early College High Schools, is made clear in public communication.


We define innovation as the use of sound practices, sometimes new and sometimes not, with the aim of improving student outcomes.

A good example of Dallas ISD’s pioneering reforms is the announced Accelerating Campus Excellence program that former Superintendent Miles launched in 2015. The pillars of the ACE program include providing financial rewards to highly rated educators to teach in underperforming schools and focus on data to improve teaching. .

Innovation pays off. the growth the success of each of ACE’s three school cohorts has exceeded that of other Dallas ISD campuses. Additionally, the initiative has been replicated throughout Texas, including the districts of Fort Worth and Richardson.

The good news is that the search for a leader who values ​​innovation doesn’t mean the next superintendent needs a magic wand. Some of the best innovations are fundamentals that have been pushed aside in the pursuit of shiny new things.

For example, Aldine ISD near Houston focused on using the principles of reading science to guide teaching. Research shows that blocking and wrestling techniques such as structured and explicit teaching of things like phonics can improve the reading ability of elementary school students, preparing them well to understand more complex texts as they go along. time.

Community ecosystem

We define the ecosystem as the broad coalition of organizations and community leaders focused on education and workforce outcomes in a city or region.

The Commit Partnership is the cornerstone of Dallas’ support ecosystem. The nonprofit was founded a decade ago by local business leader Todd Williams to guide school decisions in North Texas with quality data on outcomes. Commit’s job is precisely to find out how community support organizations can strengthen education. Districts need leaders who can be both community school champions and Paul Reveres, who factually and directly alert citizens to areas of growth.

The new approach did not lead to immediate and universal student success. A particularly troubling point is that Dallas ISD eighth grade math results in the 2019 National Academic Progress Assessment Examination found that students in the district had lower scores than students in other urban districts – and that was before the impact of the pandemic on student learning. students. But broad community support is an important ingredient for long-term success.

These three elements give the members of the jury a framework for their search for candidates. Applicants must demonstrate how they have created or maintained effective governance, evidence-based innovation, and strong community support in their previous roles. The specific evidence of this work should matter.

These three elements are also significant for potential candidates. Evidence of strong governance, innovation, and ecosystems will help candidates understand if they have a chance of succeeding as a superintendent. Superintendent roles are complex and demanding. They are made almost impossible when these three elements are absent from a district.

The most effective superintendents understand that while they have to deal with adult issues such as disputes over budgets, bond issues, book lists, and staff, they must also stay focused on maintaining children on track for future opportunities. School boards and communities that let adult issues take precedence over student outcomes make it difficult to recruit the kinds of leaders who can make a difference for children.

Prioritizing governance, innovation and ecosystems is a great starting point for board members when looking for leaders focused on student success.

Anne Wicks is director of the education reform initiative at the George W. Bush Institute.

William McKenzie is Senior Editorial Advisor at the Bush Institute.

They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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