Choosing a superintendent is arguably the single most consequential decision a school board has to make, affecting not only the school system, but the public at large. The Harford County Board of Education plans to do it twice in the next twelve months, first by naming an interim superintendent in the coming weeks to replace the departing Dr. Robert M. Tomback, followed a year later by the appointment of his permanent successor.
Explaining the school board’s decision back in February, Board President Rick Grambo said in a prepared statement:
“…While we, as a community, have the critical task of selecting the next Superintendent to lead our school system, we must ensure that this process does not interfere with our mission and responsibility of instructing our students and preparing them for a successful life beyond Harford County Public Schools. In order to allow more time to sufficiently gather feedback and input from the parents, students, staff and community regarding desired criteria for our next Superintendent, we have decided that it would be prudent to appoint an interim superintendent to serve a one-year term.”
Grambo went on to say that the interim superintendent would be allowed to apply for the permanent position, which comes with a four-year term under state law.
Keeping in mind the Board’s request for public engagement in the search, and in the interest of helping stakeholders offer informed opinions, The Dagger offers the following overview of the job of the superintendent. But first, a caveat…
Superintendent, Not Super Hero
Like it or not, there are some things a superintendent cannot do, or must do, in order to stay on the right side of the law. As the Maryland Education Code frequently notes, mandates from federal and state authorities, including the state superintendent and the state board of education, trump the authority of county superintendents and their local school boards.
Got a problem with high stakes tests, the required 180 days of school, or the upcoming switch to the Common Core standards? Sorry, those are all decisions made at the state level and beyond.
On the other hand, there are plenty of decisions left up to a local superintendent, who manages the day to day operations of the school system, and the thousands of employees who make it work.
Duties and Powers
In addition to carrying out federal and state mandates, a county superintendent also implements policy set by the local school board and strongly influences the direction of local schools through recommendations made to the board on issues both great and small.
Specified duties and powers under state law run the gamut, from proposing the annual operating and capital budgets, to recommending “appropriate locations for posting flashing caution signs” at or near school sites.
Other requirements outlined in the Maryland Education Code include evaluating the program of instruction; recommending curriculum guides and courses of study; recommending textbooks for purchase; providing for professional development, and last but not least, making recommendations to the board regarding school buildings.
More information on the job of superintendent can be found here.
In Harford County Public Schools, examples of decisions made or heavily influenced by a superintendent include comprehensive school redistricting; shifting priorities for school construction; removal of school principals; salary increases or cuts proposed for employees; suspensions and boundary exceptions for individual students; the implementation of Everyday Math in elementary school; the switch to the block schedule and the focus on Advanced Placement in high school; the reorganization of senior staff; and the establishment of magnet programs and the student advisory council.
The superintendent also, either directly or through recommendations to the school board, makes personnel decisions, including hiring senior staff, transferring principals among schools and promoting teachers.
Finally, state law also requires local superintendents to be advocates for their school systems, as they must “seek in every way to secure adequate funds” and “try in every way to awaken public interest and improve educational conditions in the county.”
Beyond the letter of the law, but still worth noting, is a superintendent’s management style, which can set the tone for better or worse in an organization that relies heavily on inspiring people to fulfill its mission.
Given all of the above, by what criteria should the School Board select the next superintendent of Harford County Public Schools? The Board will formally request community input on that question once the interim selection is announced, which according to Grambo’s statement, is planned by June 10. Dagger readers are invited to opine on the topic starting now in the space below.
In the meantime, if you think you have the stuff to be the next superintendent, or know someone who does, here are the licensing requirements for county schools superintendents in Maryland, as published by the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.
“Maryland Superintendent License Information
From the Code of Maryland Regulations
The requirements for certification as a superintendent, deputy superintendent, associate superintendent, assistant superintendent or equivalent position are that the applicant shall:
A. Meet the requirements for certification in early childhood education, elementary education or a secondary education area;
B. Have a master’s degree from an accredited institution;
C. Have 3 years of successful teaching experience and 2 years of administrative or supervisory experience; and
D. Have successfully completed a 2-year program with graduate courses in administration and supervision in an institution or institutions approved by an accrediting agency recognized by the State Superintendent of Schools. Graduate work under §B may be applied toward the requirements of this section, provided that a minimum of 60 semester hours of graduate work is presented.”