EDITORIAL: In hiring new superintendent, Schenectady school district must also focus on retention

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There’s an old Seinfeld episode in which a rental car company loses Jerry’s reservation.

“You know how to take the reservation,” Jerry tells the company’s employee. “You just don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation: the holding.”

School board members in Schenectady must keep that in mind as they resume their 13-month journey to find a new superintendent.

The most recent failed search was fraught with problems, including a lack of viable candidates and conflicts with members of the public and staff over how much input they should have.

And the new search is off to a rocky start, with some board members stating they feel they could find better candidates if the search was conducted more secretly.

But the board will eventually find someone qualified and willing to take the job.

Yet that’s just part of the challenge board members face.

Besides getting a new superintendent in the building, they’re going to need to find a way to retain that person long-term.

The hiring process for superintendents is expensive, time-consuming and often filled with conflict, as Schenectady has learned.

And when superintendents leave, their departure disrupts the educational mission, interrupts progress on systemic reforms, and lowers staff morale, a Vanderbilt University study of superintendent departures found several years ago.

An article in Wednesday’s New York Times highlighted the challenges school districts face in retaining top administrators.

Specifically, it focused on the reasons superintendents quit during the pandemic, including disputes over remote learning, the threat of being fired for unpopular decisions, dealing with union strife, and the 24-7 nature of the job.

In normal times, many superintendents simply leave their jobs for better opportunities.

But other matters also can factor into it, including community and district harmony; school board dysfunction; board turnover; the location and demographics of the district; the age and experience of the superintendent; whether the candidate is hired from within the district/region or recruited from elsewhere; and the specific challenges facing the district.

Schenectady officials need to consider all these factors in identifying suitable candidates for the post and do what they can to mitigate the issues that might compel the next superintendent to leave.

It’s a complex problem with no easy answers.

But if Schenectady officials don’t want to go through this process again any time soon, they’ll have to address not only what they need to do to attract a new superintendent, but what they’re willing to do to hold them.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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