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Are You Playing Musical Chairs?

September 1, 2017


This article, excerpted from Dr. Blane Covert's doctoral dissertation, is the first in a series about the effects of head of school turnover.  


An independent school headmaster/public school superintendent brings to bear a powerful influence over “the prevailing spirit, atmosphere, and morale that gives each school distinction” (Bunting & Lyon, 1991, p. ix).  As American schools have attempted to cope with a number of significant societal changes in the past decade, the position of a school or district's chief executive has grown in both complexity and importance.  In fact, McAdams (1996) argued that the appointment of a school leader is the most important task a school board undertakes.  

Because a headmaster/superintendent has the authority to create policy, oversee the academic program, hire personnel, raise money, market the school, and set the agenda for the institution’s future, strong and competent leadership is of the utmost importance. In addition to his or her many responsibilities, a school leader must understand the culture of both the school and the community at large in order to be successful.  With its “growing and competing demands, it [the job of chief executive in a school or district] is a profession that can baffle even the most knowledgeable and well prepared” (Edwards, 2006, p. xi).  The job is, quite simply, a difficult one.  

In recent years, searches for both independent school headmasters and public school superintendents have steadily increased.  In fact, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) (2010) reported that “independent schools face large-scale leadership transitions and potential challenges at both the administrator and head of school level” (p. 4).  Although the appointment of a new school leader provides an occasion to inject new ideas and increase support, making a successful match between a school community, with its unique history, culture, and challenges, and a new leader, with his or her unique personality, experience, and skill set, is a complicated process at best.  At worst, the new hire does not meet expectations, and the Board of Trustees is back to square one:  It must launch this complex, time-consuming, and expensive process all over again.


Is your school tired of dealing with the effects of headmaster/superintendent turnover? Help is available. Contact Academy Educational Consulting at 501-230-0881.

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