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You've Hired a New Superintendent. Now What?

Hiring a new superintendent is a cause for celebration in any district — but getting that contract signed doesn’t mean the work is over.

According to Robert Duron, TASB executive leader for member support, the first 90 days of a superintendent’s tenure is a critical time that can determine long-term success.

“Change can be a challenge, no matter how good of a fit a new superintendent is,” says Duron, “but there are some things boards can do to help their new leader be successful.”

Align Your Vision

According to Duron, a clear vision is key to cultivating a strong and supportive relationship with a new superintendent.

“Before a new superintendent arrives, a board should have a strategic plan in place,” he says. “If there is an existing strategic plan, take this opportunity to revisit that plan and make sure it still aligns with the board’s vision.”

Region 4 ESC Executive Director and former Spring ISD Superintendent Rodney Watson says the hardest part of starting as a new superintendent is learning the priorities of the board versus those of individual members. 

“The new superintendent should come in with a desire to create a shared vision as a team of eight and to develop an understanding of the board’s priorities,” says Watson. “If they have to juggle competing priorities from different board members, they won’t be able to focus on the issues that are most relevant to the district.”

Watson recommends that boards develop two to three top priorities that they can agree on before onboarding a new superintendent.

“A good superintendent is a facilitator,” says Watson. “Their leadership should be based on the board’s vision, but in order to lead well, they need clarity about what that vision is.”

Identify Key Contacts

Duron says board members can help the new superintendent make contacts by drawing up a list of different groups and leaders to connect with. This may include:

  • District leaders
  • All campus staff
  • Central office staff
  • Parents and caregivers
  • Students and student groups
  • The broader community, including local media

But it’s not just those key contacts that are important for boards to be aware of, according to Watson. Board members can also help a new superintendent connect with potential mentors or other leaders they can share ideas with.

“A new superintendent should have a mentor,” says Watson. “They need someone to talk to. This could be a retired superintendent or another leader they respect and trust.”

Watson says a superintendent may have ideas as to leaders they’d like to connect with, but a board can help by encouraging new superintendents to connect with individuals or organizations that provide support, growth, and development.

Make a Plan

First impressions are powerful. The way your new superintendent is introduced to district staff and the wider community could have enormous implications for the way they are perceived throughout their tenure, says Duron.

The board should work with the new superintendent to create an entry plan that includes the following:

  • A list of initial communications that will be drafted, including goals and audiences for each message.
  • Event schedules, including community events, staff meet-and-greets, campus visits, and one-on-ones with key staff.
  • Briefing documents, including timelines for any initiatives currently in progress and budget information.
  • A list of any issues that need immediate review or problems that need to be addressed in the first 90 days.

A key part of developing an entry plan is determining communication goals and messaging. Watson says the board and superintendent should work together to craft an approach that aligns with the district’s vision.

“Listening tours are important, and you want to make sure that parent voices are heard,” says Watson. “But the superintendent needs to have a plan in place for how to respond on hot-button issues.”

District employees and the wider community need to have the opportunity to meet and speak with the new superintendent, but Duron says, “Before you start communicating with the public, you need to be sure you’re on the same page. Boards that unite around a plan and act right away have the best success.”

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