The other Super Bowl

It’s little wonder that school superintendent posts are so hard to fill.  The recent fiasco in New York City serves as a case in point (“Trying Again, de Blasio Names a New Schools Chancellor,” The New York Times, Mar. 6).  Just when the nation’s largest school district seemed to have Alberto Carvalho, head of the Miami-Dade district in the fold, he backed out at the 11th hour.  Embarrassed by the televised rejection, Mayor Bill deBlasio subsequently tapped Richard Carranza, the Houston schools’ superintendent.

The real question is whether Carranza will last.  I say that because urban superintendents are known for their short tenure. With the exception of Boston’s Thomas Payzant (11 years), Long Beach, Calif.’s Carl Cohn (10 years) and a handful of others, it’s a turnstile position.  I’m not at all surprised.  No matter how enthusiastic new superintendents are, reality soon wears them down.

It’s not necessarily a question of ability.  Even those with impressive credentials learn about the difficulty of building confidence among a host of stakeholders, including teachers, parents, and business leaders.  John Deasy learned that lesson the hard way when he was superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.  He failed to build alliances and was forced out in Oct. 2014.

Nevertheless, the Harvard Graduate School of Education thinks it has the answer.  In the fall of 2010, it enrolled 25 candidates for a new program in educational leadership.  The Ed.L.D. is the first new degree in 74 years offered by the school.

But I seriously doubt if the degree will achieve its goal.  Yes, heroic leaders can sometimes perform miracles.  However, they cannot be produced on a large enough scale to meet the nation’s needs. According to Public Agenda, 96 percent of practicing principals said their colleagues were more helpful than graduate studies in preparing them for the demands of the job.  I submit that applies even more to superintendents.

Just as exemplary teaching is more art than science, I think the same can be said of leadership.  I wish Carranza well in his new post, but I wouldn’t bet the ranch that he will beat the odds.



2 Replies to “The other Super Bowl”

  1. I am a little confused. Is Richard Carranza from Miami-Dade or Houston? My feeling is that the larger the district, the less effective the Superintendent. Most of my teaching career was in city/town school systems in Massachusetts. Teaching in Florida was a shock to my system. In my opinion, school systems with 1000 – 3000 students will never be successful. Each city/town in a large county have their own needs and a large number of students will never reach their potential. Large systems should be broken up into smaller areas with their own superintendent.


    1. mathcoach: I’ve corrected the error. Carvalho remains head of the Miami-Dade district after turning down de Blasio’s offer to be chancellor of New York City schools. Carranza was head of Houston’s schools. I agree with you that huge districts are virtually unmanageable. There have been efforts to break up the LA Unified School District but to no avail.


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