- Despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, the RAND Corporation’s fifth American School District Panel Survey finds high job satisfaction among superintendents and suggests turnover may be no higher than average.
- The findings, detailed in the organization’s State of the Superintendent report and based on a randomly sampled set of 291 district and charter leaders, suggest 85% of school superintendents were satisfied with their jobs as of spring 2022, with just 13% saying they planned to leave their positions at the end of the 2021-22 school year. That turnover rate, according to the report, is in line with pre-pandemic turnover estimates for school district leaders.
- Still, 95% of respondents said the role of the superintendent has gotten harder in the past decade. Those considering an exit listed job-related stress and community politics listed as the top reasons.
The proportion of superintendents thinking about leaving their jobs was higher in majority-white suburban and rural districts than in urban districts, according to the RAND report.
“I can tell you that it’s been tough, to the point that we have developed a program that we call ‘Live Well, Lead Well’ to work with superintendents to help them deal with the stress and all of the issues they have to deal with,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. “It’s been significant over the last two-and-a-half years.”
Spotlighting some of the higher superintendent turnover rates he’s seen nationwide, Domenech pointed to a 33% rate in Alaska and a more than 40% rate in Maryland — notably above the forecast 13%.
In April, a RAND Corp. report based on a survey of 359 school district and charter school network leaders, conducted between October and December 2021, found a quarter of superintendent respondents saying they would likely leave their positions soon. And a February report by the ILO Group, a national education strategy and policy firm, found 37% of the nation’s 500 largest districts had experienced or were in the process of undergoing leadership changes since the pandemic began in March 2020.
RAND researcher Heather Schwartz, also a co-author on the State of the Superintendent report, told K-12 Dive in April while she expects to see more departures prior to the 2022-23 school year, whether many would follow through on stated intentions to leave remains unclear. “I was not surprised to see that a greater percentage of superintendents say they plan to leave,” Schwartz said. “The question for me is, will they leave?”
Still, the stressors on superintendents add up and have been highlighted by turnover in the nation’s four largest school systems — New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami-Dade County — over the past 18 months. District leaders have “taken it from both sides,” Domenech said, on issues ranging from COVID-19 safety protocols to political disputes over curricula.
“It has been difficult. It has been high,” Domenech said. Superintendents “do love their job, but I can tell you that a lot of them have left this year because of the stress they’ve been under, because of the threats that they have been subjected to — not just them, but their families, as well. And a lot of them have been fired by boards, as we’ve seen with what amounts to, almost, an attack on public education by the far right.”