Creating Transformational Educational Leaders

The superintendent position of any school district is an important role that all employees and students of the school system rely on, as well as the community as a whole. The superintendency can become a lonely position, as there are no other similar positions in a district. Mr. Jack Hoke, the Executive Director of the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association (NCSSA), is looking to change that with the Next Generation Superintendent Development Program.

Jack Hoke has had a long and celebrated career in education. After spending 32 of his 36 years in multiple levels of administration, including the role of superintendent, he decided that he wasn’t finished advancing the educational systems in North Carolina. His motivation to continue working in education is the 1.5 million students in the North Carolina public school system and thinking about the individual needs of those students.

In a conversation with Mr. Hoke about this innovative approach to creating transformational educational leaders, three main ideas on how to make this change emerged:

  • Networking
  • Building a support system
  • Staying current with state and national educational perspectives

Networking

Many school systems provide times for “job alike” meetings. Job alike times are typically a chance for people in the district with the same job to come together to creatively problem solve, and to develop new curricular guidelines or operational procedures. Mr. Hoke points out that “the superintendent is a unique position because it has no equal in the district.”

This means that superintendents need to network across the state and across the country. Networking with colleagues and corporate sponsors are big parts of the Next Generation Superintendent Development Program. By committing to eight days of face-to-face meetings, these networks provide support, and time for collaboration and positive influence.

Building Support Systems

Jack pointed out that of the 115 districts in North Carolina, 85 of them have a superintendent that have been in the position for fewer than 5 years.  Mr. Hoke stated that “building a strong system of support for these educational leaders is one of the ways that the Next Generation Superintendent Development Program hopes to build a knowledgeable base of superintendents with over five years of experience. One innovative way that the North Carolina School Superintendent Association (NCSSA) is helping create this system of support is by building 'thought partners' into the program."

Pairing up one of the 25 program participants with a program graduate is a key component for creating this coaching model. Over the course of the eight face-to-face meeting days, they will spend six hours with their thought partner exploring issues such as educational innovation, how to adapt to the ever changing field of education, and the need and means to transform learning in their school districts. These thought partners are also available electronically between meetings. Being current superintendents themselves, the thought partners offer both current information and up-to-date research in their coaching role. They have found the most success in grouping thought partners geographically. 

Staying Current

The third main idea is helping the superintendents stay current with state and national educational perspectives. As many school systems face an increase in student numbers and a decrease in school funds, every position in a school system is asked to do more with less. This includes superintendents. The school system is the largest employer in many districts and every decision made by the school district has immediate impact on the community. 

Staying on target with current perspectives is a key component to the Next Generation Executive Leadership Program. By focusing on creating personal leadership goals that also align with district, state and national goals, it ensures that the participants stay knowledgeable about the changes in education at all levels.  Attending national and state level events with national speakers and legislative updates also helps facilitate each superintendent reaching this goal. 

One example is this year’s NCSSA Superintendent's Summer Leadership Conference that will feature national speakers Dave Weber, President of Weber Associates and Dr. Bill Daggett, Chairman and CEO of the International Center for Leadership in Education.  All of these opportunities ensure that superintendents stay focused on the gap between the students’ needs and what the school system is providing. 

In today’s educational climate, it is imperative that we have innovators like Jack Hoke who continue to push our current educational leaders to continue to be supportive learners who are building networks while also staying abreast of innovative ideas that help close our students’ academic gaps. By shifting the focus of the superintendent role from a lonely perch atop the district ladder of success, to a necessary cog in the wheel of an educational innovative network, Mr. Hoke is changing the lives of 1.5 million North Carolina students, one leader at a time.