Despite headaches, more superintendents report higher job satisfaction in 2024

The rewards simply outweigh the stress of the job, new research suggests. Challenges certainly remain, but superintendents say they're staying true to their "why."

During the pandemic, there was a dramatic shift in district leadership across the country. For many, the added complexities of the job did not outweigh the rewards. For instance, in 2022, nearly half of the 500 largest school districts saw leadership changes since March 2020, according to data from the Superintendent Research Project. Fast forward to 2024, however, and things are starting to look up for education leaders, though challenges certainly remain.

For the past two years, many K12 leaders have considered leaving the superintendency. COVID-19 spawned new issues for superintendents to have to address, and on top of that divisive politics have only added to these headaches. Yet, this year in particular, more superintendents say they’re willing to stick it out. In fact, despite reporting high levels of exhaustion and burnout, 83% of superintendents are expressing high levels of job satisfaction, according to EAB’s 2024 Voice of the Superintendent survey.

Interestingly, this level of satisfaction varies depending on one’s length of tenure:

Likelihood of job satisfaction

  • Less than one year: 100%
  • One to five years: 87.9%
  • Six to 10 years: 79.5%
  • 11+ years: 75.6%

“This is likely driven by the sheer strain of the role,” the report reads.

Thankfully, among the nearly 150 superintendents who were asked about their job plans for the next two years, 63% said they’re going to stay beyond the next two years, a 9% increase compared to 2023’s figures. Another 10% said they’re going to see how this year goes before making a decision, 8% are actively looking for work in another district, 2% are looking for work outside public education and 15% plan to retire within the next two years.

Additionally, many superintendents chose to say what they find most rewarding about their jobs. EAB found three emerging themes based on their responses:

The impact

  • “Witnessing the successes and accomplishments of our students.”
  • “Passing a bond to build new facilities that replace 70-year-old buildings in our district.”
  • “Helping to turn around a situation that was so bad folks were giving up on it.”

The relationships

  • “Engaging with students, staff and families reminds me of our WHY each day.”
  • “Helping teachers be successful in and outside of the classroom.”
  • “Interacting with students and parents. Personal connections and relationship building are the best parts of this job.”

The challenge

  • “The ever-changing issues that come up are always challenging. It’s never boring. I love it.”
  • “Working directly with students to discuss their concerns and problem solve together.”
  • “Being a leader in difficult times… willing to lead when the silent majority isn’t heard.”

More from DA: Superintendent’s Playbook: Interviewing at a new district? Leave your vision at the door

Despite the numerous challenges associated with this job, one thing is evident from this research: You can do it—even newer superintendents. The researchers asked superintendents what advice they’d give to new district leaders this year. Here are some of their responses:

“Be patient, be flexible and have a sense of humor.”

“Make yourself available and visible to your community.”

“Make sure you understand your board/board members and their motivation.”

“Stay true to your core values and principles.”

“Hire a cabinet that you trust and a cabinet that will push you.”

“Buckle up. The role is not what we learned in school. Be prepared to be wrong. Own it. Support your staff.”

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
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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