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The contemporary superintendent

4 min read


When Tom Whitby asked me to share a perspective on the work of a contemporary and effective superintendent, “connected” came to mind immediately. For me, connected means a great deal more than simply being “online.” Such superintendents work hard to figure out how to lead and facilitate today’s learners and learning.

They make connections both face to face and virtually in ways that transcend the hierarchy of school districts as we mostly experience them. With the rate of change in today’s fast-paced educational environment, they know it’s obsolete to manage a school district from behind a desk while keeping at bay layers of the organization and its people.

The first time I attended a gathering of superintendents, the group was mostly male, Caucasian, 50-something and into conversations about the cost of everything from buses to square footage for new buildings. I see that changing as a new generation moves into the superintendency. The percentage of women and people of color in the superintendency increases each year, and more superintendents each day use social media to connect. This new generation is building a professional learning network of like-minded peers who value a distributed leadership model; one that’s less hierarchical, more inclusive and centered on advancement of contemporary learning among both young people and adults.

Whether it’s Jennie Snider (@POUSDSupt), Daniel Frazier (@DanielLFrazier), John Carver (@johnccarver), Steve Constantino (@smconstantino), Simone Rose Oliver (@SimoneROliver) Lisa Brady (@yolebrady), Dave Tebo (@tebotweets), John Kuhn (@johnkuhntx) or others you can find on the supts list maintained by Frazier, the contemporary superintendent defines effective through a different set of competencies and dispositions than such leaders did even a decade ago.

Here’s what two superintendents had to say in Twitter responses about what they see as their core leadership work today:

Eric Williams (superintendent of York County Public Schools, Virginia)


Dave Britten (Godfrey-Lee Public Schools in Michigan) — tweets sent via Direct Message

  • @colonelb: You’ll notice I said little about $$$. It’s important but too many Sups make budget their only purpose in life. Focus on learning is key.
  • @colonelb: lead the visioning and creative process of moving away from old K-12 model to new model centered on student 21C learning.
  • @colonelb: modeling 24/7 professional learning through the use of technology and drawing staff into real-time collaboration
  • @colonelb: engaging community, business and local organizations in the work of the schools to support initiatives
  • @colonelb: providing transparent, collaborative leadership that builds trust & commitment throughout the staff and community
  • @colonelb: hiring and developing high quality school leaders such as principals who can immediately impact student learning

Today’s superintendents aren’t just tech-savvy; they’re also people-savvy. They know that the contemporary school is changing from a 3D teaching place to a 4D learning space. They understand that to engage learners today, educators must work differently. They support the use of pedagogy that advances both relevance and challenge, creating pathways for learners to sustain interest and passion for learning. They value young people searching, connecting and communicating as they learn, rather than simply recalling content. They know that learners today don’t want to power down when they come to school, so they’re exploring and norming “bring your own device,” as well extending school networks to families and the community.

Most importantly, this new generation is less about reforming schools and more about transforming education by leading for a breadth and depth of learning that goes beyond standards and standardized testing of the ubiquitous test-prep curriculum.

Pamela Moran is superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia. She is past president of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents. She believes that today’s young people require access to 4D learning spaces, contemporary learning tools and excellent teachers to support their developing passion, interest, curiosity, competency and resilience as learners. You can follow her on Twitter @pammoran. She blogs at Cooperative Catalyst as well as at A Space for Learning.