Superintendents are stressed out. Here is the No. 1 reason

Nine in 10 superintendents cited “the intrusion of political issues and opinions into schooling” as a leading source of work-related stress.

Superintendent stress is surging and neither test scores nor safety appear to be among the top five reasons for the rising anxiety.

Turnover has risen from around 14% to 17% since the beginning of the pandemic and almost nine in 10 superintendents polled this spring cited “the intrusion of political issues and opinions into schooling” as the leading source of work-related stress, RAND reported in its latest American School District Panel Survey.

When it comes to suburban superintendents and superintendents of color, almost all of them blamed political intrusions for stress levels that have forced some to consider leaving their districts. Despite recent furors over book bans, critical race theory and transgender students, the survey did not ask superintendents which specific political issues were making their jobs more difficult.

Here’s a look at how many superintendents cited the top 10 causes of stress:

  1. The intrusion of political issues and opinions into schooling: 88%
  2. Educators’ mental health: 74%
  3. Students’ mental health: 71%
  4. Staffing shortages: 65%
  5. District budget: 65%
  6. State accountability requirements: 52%
  7. Educator attrition: 44%
  8. School board relations/school board pressure: 32%
  9. Community physical safety concerns: 22
  10. Feeling like the goals and expectations of the district are unattainable: 21%

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Politics is hardly a new source of stress for K12 leaders. Political divisions in the community were described as a pressing challenge by 27% of superintendents surveyed by AASA in 2020. A RAND poll conducted in the spring of 2022 found that furor over issues such as COVID safety and critical race theory were top sources of superintendent stress.

Political polarization is causing more disruptions in historically advantaged suburban, low-poverty and mostly white school systems, where leaders are dealing with more book challenges, Freedom of Information Act requests and threats against educators, RAND notes.

Overall, education leaders are far more likely to report frequent stress than working adults as a whole. Some 79% of superintendents, 85% of principals and 58% of teachers reported experiencing stress frequently. But most superintendents also told RAND that “the job is worth the stress” and believe they are coping with it well.

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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