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Superintendents Love Their Jobs, But Say Politics and Social Media Are Impediments

About one third of school superintendents plan to retire within five years, and for those who leave the job, politics is often one of reasons behind their departure.

But overall, superintendents love what they do, with over 80 percent saying they would choose the profession all over again, although women tended to have a slightly lower job satisfaction rate than their male counterparts. 

Those findings are among the highlights from a survey of superintendents that sought insights into the demographics, tenure, and experiences of individuals leading the nation's school districts. The survey, "Study of the American Superintendent: 2015 Mid-Decade Update, provides fresh information on a similar report published in 2010. It was released Wednesday by AASA, the School Superintendents Association.

In the 2010 report, 1,838 superintendents responded to the AASA's survey. This time around, 845 superintendents' responses were used. As a result, the ASSA wrote in the report's executive summary that "the data cannot be considered representative," and should be referred to as informational. 

But despite the smaller sample size, the group noted that the data revealed a number of areas worth further investigation and research, and that the responses held implications for the profession, particularly in the area of developing future school district leaders.

Among other findings:

  • In all but the largest districts, women accounted for a quarter of all superintendents, and female superintendents occupied urban superintendent jobs at a higher percentage than men. (The report noted that because the sample size was limited, care should be taken in drawing conclusions from the responses. A quick check of the superintendents who run districts that are members of the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents nearly 70 of the nation's largest urban districts, showed that more men occupied those positions.) 
  • Larger districts appeared more likely to hire superintendents from within their districts' ranks. Male superintendents were more likely to be hired from within than their female counterparts.
  • Stress from the job, time commitment, and a lack of adequate funding are among the top challenges superintendents face.
  • Women tended to become superintendents later in their careers than their male counterparts. Women also tended to have shorter tenures, possibly because they started the job later. (More women participated in the new survey than in the previous round.)
  • While women reported that they were hired for their curriculum and instructional leadership expertise, men were hired for their "personal characteristics." (This is similar to findings in the 2010 report, according to the AASA.)
  • Five percent of men who responded said they belonged to a minority group; 11 percent of women did so.
  • Fewer female superintendents were married or had partners than their male peers. The report notes that this may suggest that women pay a heavy price for their career choice. 
  • Male superintendents were younger and reported a higher number of school-aged children than female superintendents.
  • Female superintendents generally spent more years as classroom teachers before becoming superintendents.
  • Three-quarters of the male respondents reported completing a superintendent licensure program or equivalent, while one-quarter of women did so.

The report noted that regardless of the size of the district, politics topped the list of factors that superintendents point to as inhibiting their performance on the job. And social media ranked among the factors that superintendents also list as impeding their job performance. The survey did not delve into why superintendents held such views about social media, but it noted the contradiction in that response in light of the recent push for school administrators to use social media to communicate with their communities. The AASA suggested that future research look into those areas. 

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