Is your school prepared to communicate a superintendent or principal transition? If not, consider that the average tenure for a superintendent is five years, according to an Executive Summary published by AASA, The School Superintendents Association.
Recently, K-12 Dive reported that turnover is up 46 percent for superintendents in the nation’s largest school districts between the two-year spans of 2018-2020 and 2020-2022.
When there's new leadership at schools, creating a school leadership transition plan is essential to ensure they get off on the right foot. A successful and comprehensive entry plan includes research, planning, implementation, and ongoing evaluation to gain buy-in from key stakeholders.
Even before the outgoing head exits, the welcome begins. Your new school administrator should be available to everyone, ready to listen, learn, and focus on building relationships with the school community. It’s the best way to have a lasting impact in somewhat tumultuous times.
Don’t forget about the search
The research phase during the search for a new superintendent yields data on community sentiment. It’s an opportunity for superintendent candidates to gain an understanding of the community they may get to serve. It’s also a chance for the district to build trust with the community during the search process.
Publicizing the search process for your new leader can be more important than the welcome itself. Successful superintendent searches occur when the process is transparent, and there is strong community involvement. When the community gets a say, the transition is more manageable, and the impact is more substantial.
Pre-Arrival: Research & planning
Frequently, a new leader can take weeks or months to join a district, even after the board confirms their leadership role. Your research and planning before your new leader’s arrival are essential. Planning now will make your work easier for the actual transition.
- Understand the district’s priorities and core values. Why did the community hire this superintendent/principal? Is there a new strategic plan or an upcoming referendum? This understanding will help guide your messaging and activities.
- Connect with and prepare the new leader before their arrival. What is their vision? How are they most comfortable communicating? What do they need to know about the district?
- Draft your welcome plan. Get full buy-in from your leadership teams, board members, and the incoming leader and their staff.
The formal introduction
A formal introduction of your new superintendent is critical. It’s your opportunity to set the right tone for the first 100 days and beyond. It’s generally appropriate for the board of directors to announce their new hire and the reasons behind it.
At the very least, an announcement should include an internal and external email, a news release on your website, and social media. Consider a local media tour, if available. After your announcement, visit your buildings and schools and focus on the first 100 days.
The First 100 Days
A leadership transition typically lasts for months, but the first 100 days are essential. It’s the time when people form lasting impressions.
“The arrival of a new superintendent can serve as a galvanizing factor for a community," said Lesley Bruinton, executive vice president of Nichols Strategies. "The savvy school communicator should spend time marrying the district's mission, vision, and goals with what the new hire promised during their interview phase. This type of attention to detail positions the communicator as attentive and capable of delivering a plan that reflects the individual's personality and sets them up for success in their new community."
How to execute your plan will vary depending on your district’s needs and makeup. Consider the following and adjust your plan appropriately:
- How diverse is your district?
- How comfortable is your leader with public engagement? Do they need assistance?
- Who are your publics/audiences? Who are the key stakeholders?
- Do people already know your new principal or superintendent?
- Does the public trust your school system overall?
- Is your school board at odds with your staff and community?
Below are a few robust entry plans from two well-known school districts. Publishing your welcome plan for stakeholders to see ahead of time is essential because it helps build trust and allows you to accept feedback and adjust accordingly. Your students, parents, and faculty members will appreciate the transparency and enjoy witnessing a leader ready to engage, build relationships, and get to work.
Leadership transition plan examples
Highline Public Schools in Washington is viewed by many as one of the best districts in the nation at engaging their community. Unsurprisingly, their superintendent entry plan is well thought out and visible. Their entry plan takes visitors on a straightforward journey through how Superintendent Ivan Duran plans to engage the community and promote student learning.
Rockwood Public Schools is Missouri's second-largest school district. Their plan spans 18 months and has clear goals, timelines, and structures for a successful executive transition.
Superintendent landing pages
If you have a plan in place and simply need inspiration for a strong superintendent or effective school leadership page, consider these:
The Northshore School District in Washington is known for building thoughtful pages with Finalsite's Composer, including their district leadership page. As of January 2023, there’s a link to the interim superintendent, Mr. Michael Tolley’s biography, a welcome letter, and other resources.
Northwest ISD in Texas did a great job of announcing their new superintendent, Dr. Mark Foust, and communicating a reception and a chance for community members to meet their new leader.
Video storytelling is one of the best ways to capture the hearts and minds of your community. In this video, Francis Howell School District in Missouri introduced the superintendent to young students. It will give you all the feels:
Superintendent turnover is increasing, and the likelihood of a school district transition in the next five years is high. If you suspect a superintendent transition is coming, begin planning now.
Focus on the first 100 days because they’re instrumental in setting the new administration's tone and the standards for good leadership. Be thoughtful and deliberate with your entry planning, and always aim to show the human side of your new leader through high-quality visuals and messaging.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joshua Sauer, APR, is the Director for District Communications Strategy with Finalsite. Before joining Finalsite, he spent six years working as a #SchoolPR professional for a large public school district in Oklahoma and one year as a freelance webmaster. Joshua is heavily involved at the national level in school PR and is the former president of the Oklahoma School Public Relations Association (OKSPRA). Joshua is an Accredited Public Relations (APR) practitioner with more than 11 years of marketing and PR work experience. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and communications from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Central Oklahoma.