'We're waiting for Superman to stay': Stability seen as crucial among school leadership
Roosevelt Middle School teacher Felix Linden has seen his share of principals come and go. Superintendents, too.
Seven principals in nine years at the southwest Oklahoma City school. Double that number have led the Oklahoma City Public Schools district as superintendents since 2001.
"It does somewhat become disheartening when you have a principal or a district leader who comes in with this grandiose idea and they either put it in or they try and then they leave and we're still the ones left to do our job," he said. "These kids still need us to be there every day showing them what they need to be successful, regardless of who's the principal or the superintendent."
Linden, Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel and state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister weighed in on the importance of stability and other issues affecting public education during a discussion in The Oklahoman video studio on Wednesday afternoon.
Hofmeister, citing a University of Oklahoma study, said continuity among school leaders "helps build trust" with teachers and students and their families.
"That is part of a rising academic outcome that occurs, even with a mediocre leader," she said. "Relationship building, we know, actually impacts our kids' learning.
"From a state perspective, we see this as being extremely important in having our teachers be a part of carrying a vision forward. If not, then teachers have initiative fatigue and that is part of teacher burnout."
Superintendent McDaniel, who has been on the job for about nine months, was asked how long he planned to stay given the high turnover rate among superintendents in the state's largest school system.
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"I'm told that I'm Number 14 in 18 years," he said. "As you know, it's not completely my decision how long I stay, so what becomes very important is my relationship with my board."
McDaniel said he wants kids and families to be successful, same as the board.
"We don’t really talk about how long I’m going to stay because we love the work," he said. "We think it’s meaningful work and we want to complete our work the best that we can."
Chief among that work is a board-approved realignment plan calling for 15 schools to be closed and 17 others to be reconfigured or relocated to improve education outcomes for the district's 46,000 students.
"We've got phenomenal families and teachers. We have great employees and we have focus in areas," McDaniel said. "We're just fatigued right now because I am the 14th in the last 18 years, so we need stability in the principal’s office, the superintendent’s office."
Hofmeister congratulated McDaniel on "the ability to go through something so disruptive to so many families." She said a lot is riding on the outcome of realignment.
"For Oklahoma to rise in academic outcomes, we must see success in Oklahoma City," she said.
Linden, meanwhile, worries that students will get lost in the shuffle of administrative turnover, pointing to a three-year span in which the sixth, seventh and eighth-grade classes had three different principals.
"I like to say 'we're not waiting for Superman, we're waiting for Superman to stay,'" he told panel members. "From a teacher's perspective, I just think if we could all work together this year and next year and the year after that, that would be what these kids need. Whatever it is that we're going to do, I just hope that consistency piece and that commitment to staying through the process is what we follow."