Superintendent search: Why are applicant pools drying up in these big districts?

“Applying for a superintendency today and being a superintendent today is different than even it was six months ago or a year ago,” a consultant told a school board. “There’s just been a lot of volatility in the role of superintendent.”

A shallower-than-expected pool of just 10 applicants drove Duval County Public Schools to pause its search for a new superintendent last week, with a consultant citing politics as a key factor.

The job’s salary range is $275,000 to $350,000 but some potential candidates said they shied away from a chance to lead one of the nation’s 20 largest districts because at least four seats on the school board are up for election in November, News4Jax reported. “We’ve never only had 10 applicants,” Andrea Messina, the president of the district’s search firm, the Florida School Boards Association, said last week.

“Applying for a superintendency today and being a superintendent today is different than even it was six months ago or a year ago,” she added, according to News4Jax. “There’s just been a lot of volatility in the role of superintendent.”

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The applicants included a current superintendent from another state, two Duval County regional superintendents and a few former superintendents of much smaller districts.

Duval Interim Superintendent Dana Kriznar, who replaced Diana Greene in May, was scheduled to step aside in December but now plans to remain in the post until at least the end of the 2023-24 school year, The Florida Times-Union reported.

Francis Touchet Jr.
Francis Touchet Jr.

The Lafayette Parish School System’s superintendent search ended when its board hired the only educator who applied, reported. That happened to be the Louisiana district’s interim superintendent and former associate superintendent, Francis Touchet Jr., who was approved by a unanimous vote.

District officials said the job had been posted in several newspapers in the region, including in New Orleans, and that board members and other administrators had visited the post office regularly to check for applications, The Acadiana Advocate reported.

In California, the Merced City School District‘s school board is even having trouble hiring consultants to find the latest in a string of superintendents hired since 2020, the Merced Sun-Star reported. Most recently, the board fired its search firm in narrow, turbulent vote, during which one board member claimed the district was “in chaos.”

“Since January 2020, we’ve had four superintendents,” Merced City Teachers Association President Diane Pust said at the board meeting (according to the Merced Sun-Star). “We’ve lacked clear direction in those years. Teachers are stressed and in survival mode.”

And Dansville Central Schools, a small district in New York, is reopening its superintendent search after having named two finalists earlier this year, according to the Livingston County News. The school board said on Facebook that it made the decision after “much thought and deliberation” and intends to have a permanent leader in place before next school year.

Where superintendent searches are going stronger

Not all districts are struggling to attract potential superintendents. “Applications are pouring in” at two rural Illinois districts, where the candidate pool is far larger than the far larger Duval County Public Schools, according to one report.

The Bradley Elementary School District 61 in Illinois—with a fraction of Duval County’s enrollment—has received inquiries from twice as many candidates, 20, the Daily Journal reported. The neighboring Kankakee School District 111 also has a healthy pool to choose from, the newspaper added.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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