Building Capacity for Superintendents

Building Capacity has been a hot topic in education of late, but what does it mean to build an educator’s capacity? The term building capacity refers to efforts to improve the abilities, skills and overall level of expertise in educators. This is not new but simply a way to say that in the ever-changing landscape of education, everyone involved must stay abreast of all the latest research, so that when the boots hit the ground, we have a solid plan in place.

This term is mainly used among educational leaders when they discuss how to build a knowledge base before, during, or even after a new program, new standards, or new curriculum has been implemented. Building capacity ensures that everyone involved has been not only been exposed to but also has started building a deeper level of understanding about the way that things should work for students' maximum benefit.

If we look at those higher rungs of the educational leadership ladder, the question becomes, how do decision-makers build capacity and continue to grow in the field? Jack Hoke, Executive Director of the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association (NCSSA), has developed a strategy to build capacity in North Carolina’s school districts’ leaders.

Hoke has started several programs with the NCSSA that “work to model what high-quality professional development (PD) should look like so that the superintendents go back to their districts and provide PD for others.” One of these programs is the Next Generation Superintendent Development program,whose aim is to take different cohorts of superintendents through eight days of training, two days at a time, four times a year, in order to build their capacity on how to be a successful long-term superintendent and have their district flourish under their direction. 

The current cohort is made up of 28 superintendents from across North Carolina that have between 15 years of experience, or less. Hoke explains that there is a definite need for this type of group because North Carolina has 80 superintendents, out of 115 positions, with 5 years of experience, or less.

According to Hoke, “If superintendents don’t take charge of their PD, nobody else is going to do it for them. Our PD gives them a model that includes opportunities for reflection and discussion among themselves.” Providing district leaders a chance to reflect and discuss not only offers them a chance to grow professionally, but also a chance to see how important it is for all employees of the district to continue professional growth.

When asked if he saw a change in the districts’ PD after the superintendents completed the Next Generation Superintendent Development program, Hoke mentioned that there did appear to be a shift in offering quality PD instead of using the available funds for a quantity of PD.

One of the areas that the superintendents have had exposure to is in the area of how to increase family and community engagement. Ron Mirr, Senior Vice President of Family and Community Engagement at Scholastic, spoke to them about how to lead a shift from just having teacher/parent meetings to helping schools engage meaningfully with families. Several of the suggestions that the superintendents heard were to get a process in place, and to start this change slowly so that it could be monitored and not become “just one more thing.” 

“Everything we do is for a purpose and to help student achievement,” Hoke said when asked how the NCSSA decides what topics to present to the superintendents. He also stated that he looks for ideas that help the participants to “look at different ways to see things and to provide a different light, with the purpose always being to help with student achievement.”

Mr. Hoke and the NCSSA also offer two additional programs. Aspiring Superintendents is available for Associate and Assistant Superintendents, and is intended to help educational leaders build capacity before they become superintendents. This program lasts six days, which consist of three two-day meetings. Each of the three sessions consist of one day of leadership training and a second day of survival skills training. This group is proactive in nature as it instructs participants in how to successfully work with school boards, complete strategic planning, and provides time to ask questions with current superintendents.

Finally, there is a Digital Leadership Institute where the NCSSA partners with the Friday Institute to provide district leaders with the latest ways to disaggregate district data and read the state-level rubric for school systems. Oftentimes, the superintendents are encouraged to bring a district level team, which includes the district Curriculum Director and Technology Director, to begin the district level work while they are still able to have in-person access to the Digital Leadership facilitators.

All of this work is designed around the needs of district leaders to build capacity in a proactive manner. The leaders then bring this idea back and trickle the idea of quality PD down to the teachers and staff who do the day-to-day with students. After all, the goal for all of the PD offered by the NCSSA is to improve the student experience by building capacity from the top down so that everyone is part of a cohesive district plan.