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This study was designed to provide insights through the eyes of practicing Illinois school superintendents regarding their perceptions of the essential knowledge and skills superintendents need to be successful school district leaders. This study sought to answer the following question: What essential knowledge and skills do superintendents need to be successful school district leaders? Since educational leadership professors design and deliver superintendent preparation programs, they will benefit from the perspectives of practicing school superintendents. Therefore, the study also sought to identify Illinois superintendents' perspectives on improving district-level leadership preparation programs through the following open-ended questions:

  1. What knowledge and skills should be included in superintendent preparation programs to prepare candidates for success in the superintendency?
  2. What advice would superintendents offer professors of educational administration to improve superintendent preparation programs?

Theoretical framework

Expectations for superintendents have shifted dramatically in recent years. Traditionally, the role of superintendent was defined as chief executive officer (CEO) of the school district. Duties included managing the district’s budget, overseeing and acting on personnel decisions, facilities, transportation, and maintenance as well as the chief communicator and spokesperson for the district. These responsibilities are still necessary, but no longer sufficient, for effective district leadership. Superintendents’ success is now measured not only by sound fiscal management and lack of conflict, but also by evidence of complex leadership skills to engage board members, educators, parents and the community to meet “nonnegotiable goals for instruction and achievement” (Marzano, p.21)

Present and future superintendents must focus specifically on creating and sustaining systems that support learning by students, teachers, principals, parents – indeed entire learning communities. “When central offices (led by the superintendent) participate productively in teaching and learning improvement, everyone in the central office orients their work in meaningful ways toward supporting the development of schools’ capacity for high-quality teaching and expanding students’ opportunities to learn” (Honig, et al).

The shift in emphasis from CEO to instructional leader writ large begins with strategic planning focused on student learning (Marzano, 2009). Leadership responsibility essentially means synthesizing the needs of many stakeholders and then focusing the attention, energies, and actions of the entire district to achieve its goals (Reeves, 2011). Honig et. al (2010) conclude in their study of effective urban districts “that central offices have vital roles to play in developing systems of support for district wide teaching and learning improvement” (p. 12).

There are two aspects of strategic planning. First, knowing what to do to strengthen student learning is critical. The superintendent plays a critical role in guiding principals to move in the right direction and then in providing necessary support for success (Elmore, 2003). Reeves (2011) reports that districts with higher levels of focus not only have higher levels of student achievement, but they are also more capable of implementing other essential leadership and teaching strategies. Strategic leadership also involves knowing what not to do. Effective district level leaders seek out actions with high impact and high authority and intentionally elect not to take actions with either high influence or low results. “A series of disconnected initiatives is not a system” (Fullan, 2005, p. 87) and will likely result in more of the same as opposed to system wide improvements needed.

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Solve for the first variable in one of the equations, then substitute the result into the other equation. Point For: (6111,4111,−411)(6111,4111,-411) Equation Form: x=6111,y=4111,z=−411x=6111,y=4111,z=-411
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Source:  OpenStax, Education leadership review special issue: portland conference, volume 12, number 3 (october 2011). OpenStax CNX. Oct 17, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11362/1.5
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