Passing on an offer by his district’s school board to extend his three-year tenure, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner had had enough. “We have worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week—truly 15 hours a day, truly seven days a week,” he told the Washington Post in mid-June. “It’s been exhausting.”
Beutner is certainly not alone in feeling that way. This year’s turnover of superintendents in districts large and small is unprecedented, spurred not only by the past year’s challenges due to COVID—such as how and when to reopen schools, whether to mandate masks and vaccine debates—but also of late due to the continually escalating controversy over the teaching of critical race theory.
New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza stepped down in March in the wake of the pandemic and the myriad difficulties it presented. Superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools Laura Mitchell has resigned after 27 years in the district, where she began her career as a teacher. In San Francisco, after four years on the job Superintendent Vincent Matthews announced to his school board in March that he was leaving, but then in April he offered to stay—with the stipulation that school board members “would act with civility.” And in May, Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson said she was not going to renew her contract, which expired June 30, on the heels of the district’s second-highest ranking administrator, LaTanya McDade, quitting to head up a school district in Virginia.
Adding to the already roiling waters kicked up by COVID is the latest hot-button issue: critical race theory. “That’s the big concern now,” says Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). “Add that to the debate about vaccinations, with supers getting pushback from boards and communities who either want to get their kids vaccinated or believe they’re dangerous, and it’s crazy. You can see that by the board meetings. Here in Virginia, the police had to come into a recent board meeting and arrest people. And I’m hearing it from superintendents all over the country.”
In May, Michael Collins, president of talent search firm Ray and Associates, said he anticipated 4,000 to 5,000 more superintendent vacancies than usual this year, a figure that includes some who had already planned to retire but were “persuaded to stay on for another year by desperate school boards.”
Domenech says that, on a positive note, there will always be those who aspire to take on the job of superintendent. “At the same time,” he adds, “we’re losing quite a few experienced, outstanding individuals.”