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Being Fired: How Can a Superintendent Bounce Back?

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I was a first time superintendent of a district with a history of financial mismanagement and governance issues as well as Board micromanaging former superintendents. I was terminated due to comments made about how board majority has behaved. How can I get back on my career track? Up to this point I had a stellar service record.

First and foremost, be prepared for the fact that you have a huge hurdle to overcome if you want to become a superintendent again. While the reason for your dismissal may have been due to the Board's problems, you were the CEO and you were fired because you were not meeting the expectations of the Board that hired you. It will not matter to some people that the Board's expectations were inappropriate or illegal.

Getting past that will not be easy in this day of instant information and the ability for anyone to publish online whatever they wish. This means that community members in your new district will have access to the fact that you were terminated and the Board will need to be prepared to respond to people who may jump to conclusions based on limited information. It is almost impossible to put inaccurate information back in the bottle after it creates a first impression.

With that being said I would recommend taking the following steps:

  1. Be honest. Tell the story factually and accurately without placing blame. Accept the fact that you are part of the issue and have responsibility in it.
  2. Find someone in the organization from which you were fired who can tell the story from an objective perspective. Someone else saying the Board behaved inappropriately and treated you unfairly is very different than you saying it.
  3. Seek guidance and counsel from a search firm. They may help you understand your options or even know of vacancies where the Board may get past this one issue and look at your stellar record. Much will depend on your specific situation - What is the reputation of the district? And the Board? What type of district is it? What type of district are you hoping to move into? However, be prepared for the fact that some boards may never be able to accept someone who was terminated.
  4. Consider restarting your career by working as an assistant superintendent before you try to move back into the superintendency. Assistant roles are usually hired by other administrators who may be far more willing to accept what happened in your previous job than what a Board is willing to when they hire a superintendent.
-- Hank Gmitro, President, HYA Executive Search Division, ECRA Group, Inc.
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