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Ky. Rural, Nonrual Schools Have Similar Superintendent Turnover Rates

Rural and nonrural areas of Kentucky had similar rates of superintendent turnover during a 10-year period, according to a new report from the Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia.

Researchers have shown superintendent leadership matters to the overall quality of the school district, and that the stability of a superintendent is associated with higher district academic performance and fiscal well-being. But this new study says few researchers have looked at the issue of superintendent turnover, particularly by rural status and region.

The Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia published a report with its findings in August. The research lab, which is one of 10 nationwide funded by the federal U.S. Department of Education, held a webinar Wednesday to discuss the report.

Kentucky is one of the most rural states in the country, and its districts tend to be large, high-poverty, and poorly funded, said Jerry Johnson, the report's lead author and a professor at Ohio University.

The study looked at superintendent turnover from 1998-99 through 2007-08 and examined the differences by rural status (rural or nonrual), region (Appalachian and non-Appalachian), and general variations in turnover according to district characteristics, such as enrollment, poverty, revenue per student, expenditure per student, and district academic performance.

The Kentucky Department of Education, the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, and the Kentucky Association of School Administrators requested the study, and they assumed turnover would vary by district location and school and student characteristics.

The study found otherwise. Some of the key results included:
• Kentucky school districts averaged one superintendent turnover during the study period.
• Average superintendent turnover rates in rural and nonrural school districts were within one-tenth of a point of each other.
• Average superintendent turnover rates in Appalachian and non- Appalachian school districts were within one-tenth of a point of each other.
• Superintendent turnover varied with school districts' demographic, fiscal, and achievement characteristics, but the patterns weren't strong enough to suggest links between the characteristics and turnover. The same held true for both rural and non-rural districts, as well as those in and outside of Appalachia.

The hope was the report would inform policymakers as they develop new programs to recruit and retain district leaders, but it didn't contain specific recommendations on what policymakers should do.

Johnson said the findings didn't allow for concrete recommendations based on the data. If the results had turned out differently—for example, if rural schools had seen more turnover than nonrural schools—that could've led to some specific policy recommendations, he said. Instead, the best recommendation he has is for schools to draw from research-based best practices on recruiting and retaining superintendents; those should be equally applicable for rural and nonrural schools, he said.

Johnson also pointed out that the same study conducted in another state could yield different results. States' public education systems vary in terms of school accountability and resources provided to schools, both of which have been linked to superintendent turnover, so states should be looked at separately, he said.

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