Seven Competencies for Strong District Leadership

Topics: Community Partnerships, Education Policy, ESSA

Strong school district leadership requites a certain set of skills. We believe these seven competencies are critical for a school superintendent to possess. By Byron P. White, EdD.

With KnowledgeWorks’ focus on competency-based education, we often discuss competencies that include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students. But competencies are applicable outside of the classroom as well. They can be applied in the recruitment and evaluation of staff and provide a framework for building the right team.

Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) is looking for a successor to Superintendent Mary Ronan. As the District looks at potential applicants, what skills are necessary? What competencies are necessary for a good school superintendent?

The staff at StrivePartnership, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, recently considered the matter. StrivePartnership is a collective impact organization devoted to the educational success of every child in Greater Cincinnati, from cradle to career. We do this by galvanizing the region’s education ecosystem of institutions, funders, businesses and neighborhood organizations through technical and resource support.

In this role, StrivePartnership has been a long-time partner of CPS. From this distinct vantage point we have identified seven competencies that we believe are critical for the new superintendent to possess to build on Ronan’s successes and plan for an even brighter future:

  1. Collaborative leadership. CPS alone cannot successfully meet the educational needs of all its students. That requires collective work on the part of institutions, organizations and families. As more partnerships emerge to support education as a vehicle for advancing equity in our community, it is imperative the superintendent direct the school district to be actively engaged in these efforts.
  1. Transparent communications. More than ever, it is important that the school district consistently share comprehensive information and data relevant to the school district to multiple stakeholders. We realize such information is not always flattering or easy to communicate. The superintendent should have a bias toward full transparency in order to continue to build credibility and trust with the public.
  1. Inclusive decision-making. Increasingly, StrivePartnership is recognizing that solutions to educational challenges do not come from institutions alone. They also emerge from the expertise and experiences of those who are most directly impacted, most notably parents and caregivers, and students. The next superintendent should aggressively enlist local residents as problems-solvers and co-producers of strategies and interventions.
  1. Boldness to embrace challenges. There are many challenges ahead of the school district. The superintendent should be willing to unabashedly identify these challenges, own them, and address them directly.
  1. Readiness to adopt innovation – from without and within. The district must continue to adopt new approaches to education, such as personalized learning. However, sometimes the solutions to the biggest problems already exist – quietly and off the radar screen. A superintendent who is adept at spotting best practices from within the district as well as from outside of it, nurturing them, and expanding them will be able to accelerate progress.
  1. Constructive relations with the Board of Education. A superintendent who can facilitate constructive, working relations with the Board in a manner that is visible to the public and that produces tangible results will go a long way toward solidifying community trust in the district.
  1. Systems-thinking orientation. Large bureaucracies whose functions operate more like interdependent networks rather than isolated silos have greater success. A superintendent who has experience thinking and leading in ways that require administrators and staffs to cross boundaries and work in teams will help propel the district’s progress toward achieving transformational goals.

When you look at your own district, what competencies would you add? What would you change about this list?

From Vision to Reality: Personalized, Competency-Based Learning for All Kids© is a resource designed to help school districts take steps toward personalized, competency-based learning.