Beginning the Relationship: Hiring a New Superintendent

  • Employing a superintendent is arguably the most critical decision a school board can make. The choice may be difficult, but the basics of the process are fairly simple.

    Who is qualified to serve as a superintendent?
    Superintendents are not required by law to hold a professional license. This means that any person may serve as a superintendent, as long as they meet the qualifications set by a board. However, a board may determine that it is necessary or desirable for the superintendent to hold an administrator’s license issued by the Colorado Department of Education.

    To obtain an administrator’s license, an individual must demonstrate knowledge in basic management, leadership, decision-making and problem-solving, communication and human relations, personnel administration, resource utilization, child growth and development, and knowledge and application of standards-based education. [C.R.S. § 22-60.5-308.] Therefore, if a candidate for superintendent holds a Colorado administrator’s license, it is likely that most of the desired education requirements have been fulfilled.

    The personal qualifications of the superintendent are critically important. In addition to having the knowledge and executive skills required of the position, this person must be able to communicate and relate well with the staff and citizens of the community. The ability to establish rapport, speak, write and listen well, and exercise good common sense are qualifications that every board would hope to find in its superintendent.

    How do we assess candidates?
    When employing a superintendent, a board should decide required qualifications, salary, other terms of the contract and procedures to be observed in the selection process. A board should actively look for candidates. Consideration should be given to qualified people within the school system as well as those applying from the outside.

    An entire board may wish to take part in screening applications. However, this can become quite time-consuming. Some boards have successfully used a consultant to assist in the initial screening process. The screening should reduce the number of applicants to four or five, and these candidates should be invited in for an interview with a board. It generally is advisable to use the same questions in each interview to permit comparisons.

    Ultimately, the interview process should reduce the number of candidates to two or three. State law requires that a board make public the list of finalists it is considering for the superintendent’s position no later than 14 days prior to appointing or employing one of the finalists to fill the position. [C.R.S. § 24-6-402(3.5).] A board cannot make a final offer of employment until this 14-day waiting period has passed.

    How do we announce the board’s choice?
    The final decision on the appointment of the superintendent is the responsibility of the entire board. Unanimous election is, of course, desired but not required. Announcement of the appointment should be in the form of a prepared board statement and should show the qualifications of the person selected. No announcement should be made until the person selected has accepted the position.

    Do we need a contract?
    Yes. The law requires a written contract for the superintendent, but the terms of those contracts are left largely to negotiations between the board and the individual. [C.R.S. § 22-63-202.] Typically, the contract defines the board-superintendent relationship, the superintendent’s salary and other terms of service, including the annual evaluation process and grounds for termination. Boards should review and understand the terms of their superintendent’s contract and are advised to seek legal counsel when negotiating or renegotiating their superintendent’s contract.

    Superintendent Evaluation

    The responsibility to evaluate the superintendent’s performance rests exclusively with the board. [C.R.S. § 22-9-106(4)(b).] The evaluation process is often laid out in the superintendent’s contract and should be established well before the board sits down to formally evaluate the superintendent. It is important to think about evaluation as an ongoing process, not a single event. A good place to start the conversation is to mutually agree upon a mission, purpose and performance goals that will be discussed and monitored during the year. The board and superintendent should determine the best way to monitor progress on an ongoing basis.

    Eventually, as part of the annual formal summative evaluation of the superintendent, the board will prepare a written evaluation. As a general rule, the evaluation will:
    • Set forth recommendations and plans for improvement, including recommendations for additional education and training
    • Identify the superintendent’s performance strengths and weaknesses
    • Identify sources of data upon which the evaluation document is based
    The superintendent’s evaluation report is public information as it relates to the performance of the superintendent in fulfilling adopted school district objectives, fiscal management of the district, district planning responsibilities and supervision and evaluation of district personnel. [C.R.S. § 22-9-109(1)(a).] This means that most, if not all, of the superintendent’s summative evaluation report must be disclosed to the media and/or a member of the public upon request. Boards should confer with legal counsel before releasing the superintendent’s evaluation pursuant to an open-records request.

    Board Self-Evaluation

    At the same time a board is evaluating its superintendent, the board should discuss how it could evaluate its own effectiveness. To do this, the board should first determine its purpose, goals, roles and core values. Then, it can continuously measure its success against these descriptions. Some Colorado school boards measure their success by:

    • Building a debriefing session into the conclusion of most meetings to assess how the meeting went and how they can improve
    • Holding sessions two to three times a year to assess their work and their progress toward board goals
    • Regularly engaging in school board training
    • Observing other governance teams

    More assets:

    Terminating the Relationship

    CASB believes that a critical link in a board’s responsibility to students is the superintendent’s success as an educational leader. A board should never retain an ineffective or unsatisfactory superintendent because of sentiment or lack of courage to terminate the employment relationship. It is important to have a frank and open discussion during the evaluation process to address issues that might affect the superintendent’s continued employment.

    In many instances, the identified deficiencies may be remediable. In others, the parties may mutually agree to part ways. When a change in the superintendency is necessary, a board should proceed in an orderly and courteous manner to accomplish the change with a minimum of confusion and disruption in the community. The superintendent’s contract will address how the employment relationship may be terminated – both voluntarily and involuntarily. CASB recommends that a board work with legal counsel to ensure that the termination of a superintendent’s employment complies with the provisions of the contract and applicable law.

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