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Professional Opinion

A career ladder for the superintendency

What they don’t teach you in educational leadership programs
Daniel A. Domenech is executive director of AASA and a former school superintendent for nearly 30 years.
Daniel A. Domenech is executive director of AASA and a former school superintendent for nearly 30 years.

Research shows that good teachers and principals are highly correlated with higher student achievement.

Several ongoing education programs on national and district levels are working to prepare the next generation of teachers and principals throughout the country. However, research also shows effective district leadership is also vital for high student achievement.

Prospective school district leaders are prepared primarily through university graduate programs in educational leadership, but such programs inherently have structural limitations.

Courses in the education leadership programs often lack coherence or relevance to today’s job requirements.

Executive leadership skills needed to create a culture of performance in schools are generally not taught.

As I meet and speak with superintendents across the nation, I am convinced the job of the superintendent is as difficult now as it ever has been. Yet, I am also convinced it can be the most rewarding. It’s a 24/7 job and you’re held accountable for everything that happens in a school district.

As my organization, AASA, The School Superintendents Association, continues to evolve in order to provide greater support for our nation’s superintendents, I am confident that our National Superintendent Certification Program can fill a huge gap in our industry.

Working with our partner, The SUPES Academy, we administer a robust experience that focuses on sharpening the skills that successful superintendents acknowledge are needed to thrive on the job. The academy runs incredible training programs for superintendents, principals and administrators at the national, state and district levels.

The customization and proven record of success with thousands of our nation’s educational leaders ensures that each academy meets the needs of the cohort or district it is serving.

Launched a year ago, the inaugural cohort for National Superintendent Certification has been a positive experience. According to anonymous feedback, the value of the academy was ranked with a score of 4.8 out of a 5-point scale.

The program:

  • Teaches business skills that superintendents must have to lead
  • Offers the opportunity to fill in gaps left in traditional course work.
  • Provides the chance to work with—and learn from—other superintendents whose work has already proven effective.
  • Supports each superintendent/student in the creation of a long-term relationship with an appropriate mentor.

Coast-to-coast program

We had overwhelming success from the first year’s leadership training on the West Coast at Quantum Learning in Oceanside, Calif. As a result, we are, again, partnering with SUPES to provide a similar experience for a cohort of superintendents along the East Coast. Our commitment to consistent approval will continue to improve every year.

The East Coast group will receive both group cohort learning with an incredible faculty and guest speakers as well as mentoring by experienced, sitting superintendents. On top of this, cohort members will work toward completing a capstone project and have inter-session work and communication to foster a dynamic, group cohesiveness. They will work with an executive coach, who will be either a current or former superintendent, throughout the program.

Meanwhile, leaders who complete the program are eligible to receive up to 24 credits—an approximate $25,000 value—toward a doctorate of education degree administered by Nova Southeastern University.

NSU’s doctoral program has a concentration in education leadership that focuses on the knowledge, skills and abilities needed by a chief executive officer. It combines senior administrative research with critical and creative thinking that will address educational challenges for today’s superintendent.


AASA’s mission is to advocate for public education by leveraging the voice and the expertise of the superintendent. We are especially proud that our organization will turn 150 years old next year.

The planning process is well underway to commemorate AASA’s milestone at our 2015 National Conference on Education in San Diego, which is based on the theme, “Celebrate Public Education in America.” Part of this celebration will include recognizing our initial cohort of superintendents who have completed our program—an 18-month process.

The National Superintendent Certification Program can provide a huge professional boost and help our members in challenging times.

Daniel A. Domenech is executive director of AASA and a former school superintendent for nearly 30 years.