In the weeks to come, advisors working with the Forsyth County board of education will be evaluating applicants for the job of school superintendent in an effort to find the next leader for the county school system.
As part of the vetting process, those involved will use information gathered from the public during an open commenting period that solicited input on traits and characteristics needed in the next superintendent.
It’s hard to argue with many of the recommendations from the public: proven leadership, managerial skills, high moral character, belief in students’ ability to learn, training and expertise, communication skills.
The county has been extremely fortunate in recent years in the quality of its school leadership from the top position down, and a quality school system is the result. We need the same sort of progressive leadership in the next superintendent.
Beyond the obvious, these are some of the essential traits we think the next leader of the school system needs in order to succeed:
A willingness to be different. There is a constant pressure on school systems to conform to standards set by bureaucrats and politicians in a cookie-cutter approach to education. Increasingly, the school systems that excel are those that find ways to navigate around the mandates to find what works best at the local level. Whether it’s charter schools, specialized academies, diversity of curriculum or flexibility in budgeting, the next school leader has to be able to blaze new trails around the status quo, and to do so with accountability standards in place to measure success.
An understanding of the potential of technology. Even more than today, public school systems of the future are going to be highly invested in technological advances. The next generation of school leaders has to be able to understand the potential of technology in the educational process and to harness that potential in such a manner as to assure academic achievement.
Exemplary communication skills. In part because of technology, school leaders of the future will be even more accessible to those they serve than has been the case in the past. With the all-inclusive nature of social media, the vast data dump that is the Internet, and the growing demand for increased interaction by all of those in the public arena, the next superintendent must be willing to openly communicate and interact with all those who comprise the education community – parents, students, teachers and system employees.
A passionate belief in public education. If you are going to drive this bus, you’ve got to believe in the route it takes. That means making sure a quality public education is available for everyone; that there is diversity in educational programming for students of different needs; that taxpayer money is wisely spent; that teachers and other personnel are treated well and respected, and that the same goes for students and parents; that community voices are heard, even if they are not always right; that there often are common sense answers to even the most complex of questions.
There is no guaranteed formula for selecting a perfect superintendent. As anyone who has ever made a hire can attest, even the most promising candidate in the recruiting process doesn’t always work out in the end. But we’ve had great luck in filling the superintendent’s job in the past, and the position is one that should interest the best of the best in the field of education. In the end, that’s exactly what we need – the best of the best.