2019

Co-superintendents not a good idea

Two thousand years ago, when the republic was collapsing, the Romans concocted a new leadership model: Triumvirate, a three-man team that split areas of governance. Slow to learn, they tried it twice before concluding that a leader cannot be divided. The emerging empire was thence controlled by a singular man, albeit an emperor with unlimited power.

The Founders of our republic understood the dangers of an all-powerful leader. Instead of copying the Roman autocractic or monarchial, Divine Right model, they vested limited power in one person: President and Commander in Chief. They carefully constructed a separation-of-powers system that included checks and balances on the others’ powers.

Private entities—e.g., NGO’s (non-government organizations), small businesses, corporations—generally have organized under that principle. They understand that a limited, one-person leadership model is essential to an effectively- and efficiently-run organization.

Within a heterogeneric organization, co-leadership leads to dysfunction. It becomes a Who’s on first? farce. It’s the reason we don’t have co-presidents, co-governors, co-mayors, co-coaches, or school board co-presidents: It doesn’t work.

Educational leadership, like all others, is more than about obvious tangibles such as budgeting, staffing, and implementing policy. More critical, it’s about intangibles: Setting the tone and climate of the District, defining its direction and mission, creating a vision of excellence, instilling core values, and fostering best practices in the staff.

In successful school districts, a special relationship exists between the Board of Education and the superintendent. In them, the BOE understands the superintendent is its singular employee. After his/her installation, the rest of the District’s staffing lies within the purview of the superintendent guided by law, policy, and contract if one has been negotiated.  

The superintendent then serves as the Board’s educational expert. He/she is tasked with guiding Board members whose expertise is most often in non-educational areas. With an effective superintendent in place, the Board recedes, focusing on its duo roles of policy making and oversight.

At the time of this writing, the Clear Creek BOE is seriously considering going the way of the Roman triumvirate by creating a leadership structure the intent of which is not to improve current leadership. Not only would that be unfortunate, it would also be potentially calamitous.

While at Summit High, I experienced a similar divided leadership model. It was catastrophic. The superintendent created a co-principalship, a situation that went from tenuous to fractured. Numerous factors contributed to the fracturing, but the underlying cause was the lack of one person leading the school and implementing practices listed above.

Since the departure of Bill Patterson, the Clear Creek School District has not had the benefit of a veteran educational visionary at the helm, an astute professional able to come in and assess the entire situation—community, school plants, staffing, educational practices—with an unfiltered eye so that he/she could lead the Board, educate the community, and move the District forward.   

Implementing a co-leadership model would be an unhealthy statement about the District and community. It would suggest an unfocused Board whose priority is not about student success but accommodating other circumstances. Instead of attracting a veteran visionary educational leader, it’s more likely to attract someone looking to coast into retirement or is retired and would like a part-time gig to fill out the remaining years.

The present circumstances give the Board a tremendous opportunity to re-envision the direction of the District. Clear Creek is geographically well placed to be a strong magnet for students outside the county. All it would take is a visionary to lead the effort.

The students, teachers, administrators, general staff, and the Clear Creek community deserve it.

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