As we enjoy summer and start to prepare for the upcoming school year, we take a moment to reflect on the previous educational year and meet one last time with three exceptional representatives from the North Carolina School Superintendent Association (NCSSA).

In previous interviews, we learned about the foundations of the program from Executive Director, Jack Hoke, as well as exploring the features and benefits of the Aspiring Superintendent Program with graduate, Dr. Eisa Cox.

In this installment, we focus on Dr. Rob Jackson, who serves as a mentor for aspiring superintendents but who shares his experiences with the Next Generation Superintendent Development Program.

Since COVID and its necessary protocols were on everyone’s mind even as mask mandates fell and vaccinations increased, Dr. Jackson says that of course the pandemic introduced its own pitfalls and workarounds. But, he notes, “every year there’s a new challenge.” One of the critical values of the Next Generation Superintendent program is that it provides future leaders with the tools, experience, and contacts to tackle any new hurdles that present themselves.

The program ensures that highly-effective superintendents are skilled in the following:

  • Superintendent /School Board Relations. The superintendent must establish a cooperative, productive relationship with the Board. The primary job of the Board is to develop policy, and the primary job of the superintendent is to administer an educational program.
  • Visioning and Goal Setting. With involvement of a representative group of education stakeholders, the superintendent and the staff must facilitate the development of a vision reflecting the preparation of students for their lives after they complete their secondary education. To the extent possible, this vision should describe an “ideal” future considering changes in science, technology, the environment, and the uniqueness of each community served by the school district.
  • Leading for Improved Teaching and Learning. One of the best ways for a school superintendent to fulfill the responsibility for leading for improved teaching and learning is to delegate and empower principals, curricular and instructional specialists, and teachers to share the role of instructional leader.
  • Human Resource Leadership. An absolutely critical attribute that determines the success of a school superintendent is solid HR leadership, specifically identification, recruitment and employment of outstanding, conscientious employees. Empowering these quality individuals not only improves the performance of the district, it goes a long way in reducing the superintendent’s management problems so that time and energy can be devoted to leadership activities.
  • Systems Leadership. As the leader of a school district, the school superintendent must assign top priority to establishing a school culture that is student-centered, operate and make decisions based on the highest principles, values and beliefs, and be caring and understanding in dealing with employees. The superintendent must believe, and demonstrate with action, that the ultimate measure of one’s leadership ability is to share or transfer power to responsible subordinates. The superintendent, especially, needs to empower the leadership team, including principals and central office staff, to carry out their functions in an independent and responsible manner consistent with the district’s goals.

Dr. Jackson goes on to say that program participants have the opportunity to hear from fellow superintendents and get their insights and practical ideals around these five “Essential Leadership Competencies of School Superintendent.” He continues, “It is powerful to hear from NC Superintendents and the opportunity to have in depth discussion around these leadership competencies.”

He points to the networking opportunities as a prime benefit of this program. Participants have access to great minds and mentors with a variety of experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives. Because the program lends itself to both large group presentations as well as more intimate workshops and conversations, participants have ample opportunities to learn from others’ experiences, ask pointed questions, and build relationships that will outlast their sessions. Those who work hard to sustain these networks, says Jackson, tend to be better prepared, more connected, and better armed with tools to survive new challenges.

And what is most rewarding thing about seeing the development of these future leaders? Says Jackson, “To see graduates of the program (like Dr. Cox) not only become superintendents but to sustain their involvement in leadership is truly a blessing. There’s great pride in our graduates because they do continue to serve—and they serve so successfully.”


A Day of Next Generation Development …

“Even the seating at these events is purposeful. Sometimes we’re seated with districts of like size, sometimes by region, or sometimes Jack [Hoke] seats us specifically with someone who needs mentorship,” says Dr. Jackson. He says that even though each day holds a well thought out and packed agenda, the format is flexible enough (and leaders nimble enough) to adjust on the fly to address unique circumstances or questions as they arise. “During the program,” continues Jackson, “The speakers pause and give us the opportunity to process, digest, and talk over these issues with our peers and colleagues.”