With the difficulties of resolving budget controversies, contending with myriad resource shortfalls and enduring a federal economic perspective toward education that is today, inconsistent at best, criminally negligent at worst, the superintendent must sometimes make decisions which are responsible but reprehensible to those without a full appreciate for the centricity required of the position. To this end, one journal published superintendent conceded that "partisan politics sometimes forces the superintendent of schools into a dilemma in which he must champion disgusting leadership in his party simply for the sake of being regular and therefore to hold his position as a school leader and through this leadership to do what he can to carry forward a decent program for education in his community." (Hall, 241) Such is to say that the superintendent must be conscientious of and willingly participatory in the political process if he is to survive in the position.
Even still, it has become a problematic inherency in some districts that the superintendent's role is generally seen as a conflictive one. The responsibility of resolving both practical and political priorities from diverse parties is not just a defining aspect of the role but is, even further, a confounding issue considering the core importance of educational development. To this point, a survey from 2001 of active superintendents revealed a troubling level of reported discontent with the ability left to satisfy the practical demands of a job impeded upon so heavily by political imperatives. According to the study, "over half of superintendents (54%) say they have to work around the school system to get things done, and one in 10 say the system actually ties their hands. Over half of principals (57%) say that in their own district even good administrators are so overwhelmed by day-to-day management that their ability to provide vision and leadership is stymied." (Hasan, 1)
Indeed, when we look at the responsibilities of the superintendent in such contexts as the administration of statewide school-districting concerns, it is apparent that public-impression, regional differences and statewide cultural realities also all play a crucial role in molding the political horizon for the person holding this position. One recent example demonstrates how politically difficult it can be to appease a diverse range of parties, all with a vested interests in the decisions which fall upon the shoulders of the superintendent. The notions of both dilemma and compromise have been touched upon in this discussion, and in the 2004 case of Georgia's statewide education policies, the state's school superintendent confronted a difficult dilemma with a compromise that in its attempted centricity has earned extensive criticism for its originator. In January of that year, state superintendent attempted to deal a middle-ground resolution to what has long been a sensitive and thorny issue concerning the content taught in public schools. With many of the religious Christian disposition objecting to the use of the term or instruction on the concept of evolution, a theory which many creationist devotees find to be blasphemous, there has long been pressure on school administrators and elected officials to push for some solution which might satisfy what comprises a statistically significant population of school parents and is becoming an increasingly powerful lobby group. The result of this is that the superintendent of schools in states such as Georgia, where such demographics are well-concentrated, is under pressure by segments of the public who wish to see part of the curriculum banished while, in response to this disposition, the superintendent is under equal pressure to defend this part of the curriculum. This constitutes a true dilemma because essentially any conceivable compromise will provoke vocal response from both parties for a failure to meet the totality of their demands. To this end, in Georgia, offering a prospective compromise to parties on all sides of the issue, "superintendent Kathy Cox said the concept of evolution would still be taught under the proposal, but the word would not be used. The proposal would not require schools to buy new textbooks omitting the word evolution and would not prevent teachers from using it." (AP, 1) Here, we can see that the superintendent is not overstepping any boundaries of power-entitlement or attempting to shape curriculum according to one political interest or the other. Instead, she has sought to administrate curriculum in a manner that she believes will straddle the middle ground and thus allow teachers the autonomy to teach scientific concepts absent of the elements which may be considered implicative of blasphemy. The result has been the outright hostility of parties on both sides.
The superintendent has been roundly criticized by opponents of evolution for failing to take any meaningful action, with most regarding this semantic approach as an essentially empty gesture. By retaining the concept while simply removing its key terminology, many believe that her response to political pressure has been negligible. In exact parallel, those applying political pressure requiring schools to defend theories which have been lent considerable scientific credence view the recent proposal as an undeserved nod to the interests of those actually demanding that schools bypass empirically verifiable education at the behest of religious extremists. The intensity of rhetoric and the transcendent nature of the issue illustrates that this is in impasse by which a superintendent may be hard-pressed, indeed, even unqualified, to resolve. Such is to suggest that the saddling of a school district or state system with the pressure to exemplify certain beliefs, ideals and cultural characteristics in turn burdens the top executive figure to find ways to temper this responsibility with the demands placed upon the office to do what is best for the school from an educational perspective. As we see here, when the paths to this dichotomy of roles diverges, the political pressures tend to force a lose-lose situation for the superintendent.
It is thus that we return to the notion that sometimes it must fall upon the superintendent to take a hard-line stance in the interests of preserving what is best for the course of the educational system. Of course, the requirement for job-preservation and the desire to achieve a consensus amongst members of the school board, the educational community and the general public on how to accomplish this both have the real effect of limiting the options availed to the superintendent.
It is therefore incumbent upon the effective superintendent to outwardly pursue a role that is politically savvy while remaining steadfast in the philosophical approach taken to maintaining and improving the school district or state system. This means that a superintendent must accept the politicization of the position and work hard to engage in open dialogue the various parties with which he must be interactive in order to craft budgetary and curricular standards that might best reflect the desires of the greatest diversity interested parties. Of course, as this effects such topics as the evolution debate, there may be no real way for the superintendent to satisfy the political requirements of the role while remaining true to core educational values. Thus, it falls upon this individual to make a meaningful decision to one end or the other. This might either mean suffering the political consequences of making a correct but unpopular decision or sacrificing one's value system in order to reflect in the schools that which is seen as culturally desirable to the publics thereby served. Much is it the same on the budgetary front, where the superintendent must work the economic and human resources available in order to create a sensible spending plan, and must likewise absorb the lion's share of blame for failing, within these parameters, to satisfy the needs or interests of all parties. To these ends, the position the superintendent of schools is one which is already difficult in professional practice, and is made all the more so by the microscope held over the office's holder.
Still, the superintendent is a very public position, and one upon which many to look to lead the charge in improving educational standards as well as seeing that they reflect the cultural tendencies of their geographical contexts. Thus, there may be some justification, and perhaps even a real social value, to the watchful eye placed upon this important position by teachers, parents, school board members and local politicians, all of whom must seek accountability in ensuring that the future our children is in capable hands.
AP. (2004). Georgia considers banning 'evolution.' CNN. Online at http://www.cnn.com/2004/EDUCATION/01/30/striking.evolution.ap/index.html.
Bjork, L.G. & Kowalski, T.J. (2005). The Contemporary Superintendent. Corwin Press.
Danitz, T. (2000). States Confronting School Superintendent Shortage. Stateline. Online at http://www.stateline.org/live/ViewPage.action?siteNodeId=136&languageId=1&contentId=13937.
Edwards, M.E. (2006). The Modern School Superintendent: An Overview of the Role and Responsibilities in the 21st…