A manager is a manager is a superintendent

The LA Times reports on a new trend towards hiring school district superintendents who have not previous academic (teaching or management) experience. One popular option is hiring retired military officers. Now I have known several military officers who have become great teachers. Some move from teaching to school administration but moving right from the military to the superintendent office seems risky to me.

There is a theory that says that a good manager can manage any organization. This has resulted in marketing people running engineering organizations. Remember John Sculley coming from Pepsi to run Apple? How about Carly Fiorina at HP? Results tend to be mixed. So to is the record of outside managers taking over school districts.

I’ve spent a bit of my career in different roles in academia. Sometimes as outside management (school board, budget committee) and sometimes on the inside (teacher, technology administrator) and I’ll tell you there was quite the learning curve. There is some value to having an outsider come in and see the things that insiders are too close to see themselves. But at the same time there is a lot to learn about the different nature of schools.

Schools have their own politics that are much more personal than politics in most businesses or even most elected offices. There is also a lot to learn about the way students learn, teachers teach and academic systems work. Or do not work. It seems to me that running a school district is a lot more complicated than most people think it is. I’d want a superintendent to at least have some experience teaching. Some business experience is very helpful as well. But a complete outsider seems like a huge risk to me. What do you think?

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