‘3 things I wish I knew before becoming a superintendent’

Florida's 2023 Superintendent of the Year Dr. Rick Surrency shares some of his most valuable lessons learned over the past seven years. But even for this successful leader, there's still room for growth.

The superintendency is a complex, multifaceted position that now requires intensive training and preparation. For those who are just now entering a role in district leadership, there are a few things you should know ahead of time.

Putnam County School District Superintendent Rick Surrency

Dr. Rick Surrency, superintendent of the Putnam County School District in northeast Florida, knows a thing or two about what it takes to get a district back on its feet no matter the circumstances. Named Florida’s 2023 Superintendent of the Year, Surrency raised graduation rates from 54.9% to 92.5% since taking the helm in 2015. Eleven of the district’s 18 schools were in state turnaround, which basically means they were “failing schools.”

Through hard work and strategic, data-driven initiatives, Surrency and his team have been able to remove barriers and position students for a lifetime of success. But it didn’t come easy.

Successful district leadership takes time, but it also requires surrounding yourself with the right people to get the job done. Failure to grasp this will leave new leaders frustrated and concerned that they’re not making gains in a timely manner.

Surrency, who is in his seventh year as superintendent, shares with us the three things he wishes he knew before becoming superintendent:

1. Developing systems

“The importance of developing systems in a school district that align to my overarching direction for the district,” he says. “Rather than purchasing the latest program or service, think about providing a systemic method to address a need.”

2. Utilizing effective employees

Surrency says it’s crucial to hire the right people for the work—and don’t rush it.

“It is better to leave a position open than to hire an ineffective individual who will create more problems,” he cautions. “Hire not only talented individuals; hire those who can also work with the team.”

3. Be patient

Effective change doesn’t happen overnight, he notes. It’s a process, and it’s up to you to communicate that to your team. Districts that consistently have leadership vacancies are only hindering their ability to meet long-term goals.

“I am in my seventh year as superintendent and I attribute much of the success of our district to having time to develop consistency and building on our earlier successes,” he says. “I believe districts who have regular turnover in leadership will be handicapped in making effective and long-lasting change.”

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But the work doesn’t end there. Even for the most successful leaders, there’s still room for improvement for those in the superintendency. As for Surrency, he says he’s still got much to learn, including:

  1. “How the improvement in a school district’s academic performance, graduation rates and culture can impact the surrounding community economically.”
  2. “I want to continue to learn how district leaders can have the most effective impact at the state level. It’s imperative for public school leaders to work together to have our voices heard.”
  3. “School leaders will always be challenged to find new ways to meet the needs of individual students while working in a system of accountability. While it is crucial to have overall data that reflect improvement, focusing on what’s best for each child we serve must always be the priority.”
Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://districtadministration.com
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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