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The Dual Roles of Superintendents: Navigating Success & Struggles
Connor Gleason

In the heart of every school district is a leader who does much more than “manage.” It’s a nuanced role, but superintendents hold a dual responsibility critical to their district: acting as champions in times of challenges and as supportive cheerleaders during moments of success.

Superintendents confront challenges head-on, guiding their schools through financial constraints, policy upheavals, or crises. They’re the ones who ensure that every person in their charge — teachers, staff, students, and parents — is thriving, even when the circumstances are daunting.

When there’s success, superintendents become cheerleaders to acknowledge the hard work and achievements of their community’s staff, teachers, and students, knowing well that each milestone reached is a testament to collective effort and shared goals.

Today, the impact of a superintendent is magnified by their online presence because their leadership and enthusiasm can be shared far beyond their district’s boundaries.

Through their district's website, a strong social media presence, and targeted communications, superintendents can enhance their leadership — a bridge for connecting with the broader community and a platform from which they can both champion their district’s needs and cheer its accomplishments.

The Champion in the Face of Challenges

Strategic Vision and Crisis Management

When trouble hits, a superintendent must have a game plan. They possess a strategic vision — a roadmap for the district's future that keeps everyone aligned and moving forward, especially during tough times. Proactive planning and forward-thinking allow superintendents to guide their schools to resilience and recovery after setbacks.

Consider situations where plans fall apart, like unexpected closures, staff attrition, or financial shortfalls. Effective superintendents are prepared for such scenarios, and they tackle obstacles head-on.

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Empowering Leadership

Superintendents excel when they enable their staff to innovate, welcome challenges, and even learn from missteps. By leveraging strong communications tools and branding, school superintendents can amplify this empowerment.

Creating platforms for sharing success stories and collaborative problem-solving celebrates initiative and showcases trust in the team. When staff members are given the resources and the freedom to make decisions, they're more likely to rise to the occasion with practical solutions.

Transparent and Effective Communication

In difficult times, transparent and honest communication is crucial. Superintendents can harness the power of emails, social media, and virtual or in-person meetings to ensure that everyone is well-informed. Clarity, openness, and readiness to address concerns are vital. These communication practices are the building blocks of trust and rallying community support.

Take note from Dr. Jennifer Collier — brand and communication tools play a significant role here, and a superintendent's communication style forms a big part of the district's brand. 

Advocacy and Support

Superintendents serve as vocal advocates for their schools. They must articulate their schools' needs to those who have the power to make changes, and by sharing their schools' stories—both online and in person—they can motivate the entire community.

A superintendent’s ability to harness their district’s brand and communication channels is critical. In practice, this means utilizing every available communication tool to showcase the strengths and address the needs of the schools.

  • A newsletter can highlight successes and pinpoint areas where community involvement can make a difference.
  • Social media campaigns can increase visibility and generate support for important initiatives.
  • A strong, consistent brand message resonates with stakeholders and can inspire increased funding, resources, and community engagement.

Adams County School District 14 Superintendent Dr. Karla Loria has been open about the district’s challenges — and opportunities — it faced after the Colorado Board of Education stripped the district's accreditation in 2022. Since returning to school, Dr. Loria has leveraged communication channels and has spoken to local news about her vision for the district.

The Cheerleader Celebrating Success

Recognition and Encouragement

School administrators must take the time to celebrate the efforts and successes of their school community. This can be as simple as a heartfelt "well done" in a newsletter or as elaborate as organizing a recognition event. Gestures, whether big or small, boost morale and encourage everyone to keep up their hard work.

Richmond Public Schools’ superintendent shout-outs

For example, spotlighting student and teacher achievements like Richmond Public Schools’ superintendent "shout-outs" can spread positive news far and wide. Similarly, a virtual "wall of fame" or a video series featuring student achievements helps to build encouragement.

Building a Positive Brand Image

When a school district celebrates a win, superintendents have a golden opportunity to highlight what makes their schools special. By sharing these successes, they not only shine a positive light on their schools but also enhance the district's overall reputation.

Portland Public School Superintendent letter

A superintendent can share success stories through social media posts (especially on LinkedIn), featured articles on the school district website, or engaging newsletters sent to the community, like Portland Public Schools. This kind of visibility serves as a beacon to prospective families, educators, and community partners about the school district.

Barrington Superintendent Page

Similarly, like the newsletters sent by Barrington's 220, a strong, positive superintendent brand image helps a district's growth and success, from attracting talent and resources to building partnerships and increasing community support.

Boosting Morale

Maintaining a high-spirited and motivated school environment is crucial, even after the initial excitement of a victory has faded. Continuous encouragement and positivity are the lifeblood of a vibrant school community, where the potential for greatness is always just around the corner.

Branding and communication tools play a key role in creating this positive atmosphere.

A superintendent's ability to keep the momentum can be supported by consistent and upbeat messaging. For instance, using social media platforms to share daily or weekly highlights can keep the community engaged and invested in the school's narrative. Even when there aren't any new trophies in the cabinet, celebrating the smaller daily triumphs can sustain a culture of joy and pride.

Furthermore, creating a popular hashtag for the school district on social media, like #onewestbury does, can cultivate a sense of ownership and belonging. This shared space becomes a place for everyone to contribute to the cheer.

Thought Leadership

By consistently sharing their thoughts and learnings in a blog, superintendents can establish themselves as thought leaders and approachable figures within and beyond their school communities. Brand and communications tools can amplify this effort.

A superintendent’s blog hosted on the district’s website can become a central feature of the district’s brand, showcasing the leadership’s dedication to transparency and progress. Sharing these blog posts through email newsletters and social media can increase their reach, encouraging engagement through likes, shares, and comments.

Valley View Superintendent blog

A well-maintained blog, like Valley View School District 360's, can position a superintendent as a forward-thinker who’s not afraid to share successes, challenges, and new ideas.

Digital Storytelling

Stories have the power to connect us, and within every school, countless narratives are waiting to be told. Superintendents can bring these stories to life by embracing digital storytelling through videos, blogs, and podcasts. These offer an engaging way to capture the day-to-day magic of student experiences, the journey of a community project, or the behind-the-scenes dedication that leads to a school’s achievements.

When the school community can see the smiling face of a student during a play or hear the excitement in a teacher’s voice as they discuss a classroom's success, they feel a part of the school’s narrative.

Furthermore, school district leadership can strengthen your school's brand by strategically sharing these stories on its official channels, such as its website, YouTube channel, or a dedicated podcast platform.

Duncanville ISD Youtube Screenshot

Just like Duncanville ISD’s Superintendent Dr. Marc Smith’s podcast, “Super Intentional,” it doesn't just attract potential students and staff, but also engages parents, graduates, and other school leaders.

Key Takeaway

Superintendents are the storytellers and the guides of their districts, getting their schools through thick and thin. Being a superintendent means being there for the highs and the lows — they can be the champions facing challenges head-on and the cheerleaders celebrating every step forward.

Branding Playbook for district leaders

Connor Gleason Headshot

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.


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