Supporting superintendents as if they were CEOs | Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Supporting superintendents as if they were CEOs

Would you drive a car whose technology hasn’t changed in 30 years? Would you trust a surgeon who uses the same techniques used 30 years ago? As a consumer, would you expect continued innovation, research, development, and respectful progress in the profession? Would you support and invest in the organizations responsible for creating and producing these products and services in hopes of receiving the best and most innovative outcomes?

Organizations must change to adapt to external pressures and demands to bring value to its customers. Boards of directors expect, encourage, and support research and development practices to remain competitive within each respective industry. To meet these demands, Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of corporations instill a culture of continued change in order to survive. Most CEOs are hired to create and manage change, as status quo and lack of innovation render organizations irrelevant, outdated, and replaceable. As head over multiple divisions and possible product lines, the CEO works with its cabinet leaders and middle-level leaders to lead and manage continued growth through the development of an organizational mission and vision, through investment in its people, and through continued monitoring of outcomes. Leaders of innovative organizations create cultures of learning which encourage members to take risks. Members properly document, learn from, and share information to all organizational members through careful and meaningfully constructed information systems. Information garnered from both mistakes and correct results is considered valuable in an effort to assist in future research and development (R&D) and innovation efforts (Qinxuan, Wang & Wang, 2013). Further, innovative organizations encourage the discarding or “unlearning” of dated practices which may hinder the adoption or “learning” of new and improved practices (Tsang & Zahra, 2008). A CEO’s role may differ from organization to organization – manager, politician, communicator, although the same adage holds true: the relationship that the CEO has with the board of directors has a profound effect on the overall performance of the organization (Conforth & Macmillan, 2016).

CEOs and boards of directors exist in our communities and effect our children everyday: school district superintendents and boards of education. The leaders of these multi-million-dollar enterprises make direct decisions for organizations that produce our citizenry, our future employees, and our future community members. Superintendents and boards of education recognize the need to provide their students with the necessary tools to meet the 21st century world. Through the distribution of resources – time, money, and personnel (Crawford, 2008), superintendents and their boards of education can directly impact the learning outcomes of our students. Superintendents work with their cabinet members and building-level leaders to ensure that the needs of students and their learning goals are being met.

Education faces different external pressures than those faced by business. As varying reform acts have ensued across the United States, education continues to be over-regulated and under-funded (Björk, Kowalski, & Young, 2005). New education reform mandates overlap outdated mandates, some communities expect 19th and 20th century models of teaching and learning because it’s “the way we’ve always done it”, and state funding for education continues to decline (Spalding, 2019). Nevertheless, our superintendents go beyond the rules and regulations of our current system to create meaningful, innovative learning environments for their students. Leaders are leading with moral imperative and piecing together budgets with unsustainable grant dollars, doing more with less in order to meet the needs of our kids (District Management Council, 2014, p. 128).

In business, innovation and progress is expected and supported in various ways. CEOs create a vision for what their organization should supply based on external needs and internal capacities. They work with their board of directors, c-level executives, and mid-level managers to ensure optimal functionality. All the while, innovative CEOs think to the future and work to make all aspects of the business better, ridding their organization of policies, procedures, and requirements that are no longer suitable, and most likely building budgets based on increased funding projections, not decreased. In education, innovation isn’t necessarily expected but good leaders find ways to make meaningful, positive changes happen. Superintendents constantly prepare for the future, and work with their board of education, cabinet, and building level leaders. Additionally, these leaders work with their communities, area businesses, state and federal level leaders, local colleges and trade schools, and network with schools and organizations from across the country gathering ideas and garnering support. They strive to meet the expectations of state and federal mandates, while hoping to meet the needs of a new generation of kids with unprecedented challenges.

Can we expect the same level of innovation and leadership from our education leaders as we do from our business leaders, yet not provide them the same level of support? As community members and educational influencers in this state, shouldn’t we provide the resources for superintendents in their plight for better educational opportunities for our students? These leaders deserve recognition of their credentials and expertise, and deserve to have us listen, understand and appreciate the challenges they face. We should address the unrealistic expectations and pressures that years of education reform has put their system of educators and allow them the time to un-learn old ways of educating and the freedom to then create a more beneficial system for our students. Further, I would encourage us to voice our concerns in a thoughtful manner instead of remaining silent.  Ultimately, I believe that we all believe our students deserve an instructional experience that is supportive, innovative, engaging and rewarding for both student and teacher – a system that also creates hope and opportunity for every child.

Björk, L. G., Kowalski, T. T., & Young, M. D. (2005). National education reform reports. In L. G. Björk & T. J. Kowalski (Eds.), The contemporary superintendency: Preparation, practice, and development (pp. 45–69). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Cornforth, C., & Macmillan, R. (2016). Evolution in Board Chair–CEO Relationships: A Negotiated Order Perspective. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly45(5), 949–970.

District Management Council. (2014). Spending money wisely: Getting the most from school budgets. Retrieved from

Qinxuan, G., Wang, G., & Wing, L. (2013). Social capital and innovation in R&D teams: The mediating roles of psychological safety and learning from mistakes. Retrieved from

Spalding, A. (2019). Cuts to k12 funding in Kentucky among worst in the nation. Retrieved from

Tsang, E. W., & Zahra, S. A. (2008). Organizational unlearning. Human Relations, 61(10), 1435–1462.