The Facts of Public School Superintendent Job Searches


The Alamogordo Public School System took action this last week to approve a ONE year contract and named Pamela Renteria as the superintendent until December 31st, 2024.

The board decision was a decision to allow the new school board the necessary time, opportunity and system stability to make a good and productive national search.

A vocal minority of the public has condemned this act without clearly understanding the facts of the state of the nation when it comes to seeking and finding good quality public school systems superintendent candidates.

School Board President, Judy Rabon released a statement exclusively to that stated, “As President of the Alamogordo School Board, I am very pleased with the appointment of our interim superintendent, Pam Renteria, to the role of superintendent for the upcoming year. This decision reflects our commitment to maintaining stability within our school district, ensuring a seamless transition for our students, faculty, and community. With proven, strong leadership at the helm, we believe this continuity will provide the incoming board the necessary time to conduct a nationwide search while ensuring ongoing initiatives continue to be supported.”

The facts are finding a good and effective outside leader to come and take over the role of superintendent is time consuming and is difficult given the national political climate and the national competitiveness and turnover of school superintendents.

The decision was actually supportive of the new board as it allows stability and time.

Here are the facts around the school superintendent positions and job searches. 

The typical search at a national level requires significant planning to quantify the job expectations of a new school board, creation of an attractive benefits and salary package to compete with thousands of school systems also seeking superintendents, and once a posting is created then the educational and credential vetting process begins, background checks commence, references checked and then finally a handful of applicants make it to the interview process before the school board. A typical nationwide search as alluded to by incoming school board candidates, can take 4 to 9 months to do it right.

Thus, the position was never going to be filled quickly - if a candidate search done right

More importantly, look at the facts nationally specific to school superintendent position turnover and the selection process. 

With the national political turmoil at the local level as many 3,000 school superintendent 3,000 vacancies are in the hopper for the current school year in the approximately 13,500 public school districts in the U.S.

Is Alamogordo that attractive to almost 3000 vacancies for school superintendents? 

Across the nation parents and community members angry about state and nationally mandated health and curriculum requirements and bristling at potential other mandates required to maintain state and national funding pressured are pressing School Board members and district officials to flout or ignore state and federal directives and exert local control over those decisions.

That pressure takes a toll on the role of the superintendent who must balance appeasement of the public, fighting of rumors and propaganda verses the need to legally comply with local state and federal mandates or face consequences that could lead to defunding, loosing accreditation or state or federal takeover of the school system.

Across the nation due to a radical undercurrent school board meetings have devolved into people shouting at district leaders to watch their backs. Security at meetings was increased and the lives of school board members and superintendents have been threatened.

Alamogordo is an example of such bad public behaviors and is not unique to the many vacancies in the superintendent’s office nationally. The issue locally was created locally. 

Nationally, about 25 percent of superintendents positions are vacant or planned to be vacated with a typical turnover rate still extreme compared to most private sector employment turnover of around 5 percent, according to the American Association of School Administrators.

The job of a superintendent; managing multimillion dollar budgets in Alamogordo’s case almost $100 Million, supervising school principals and central staff, fielding matters of public concern and negotiating school board priorities has never been easy.

And now, as thousands of school boards across the country compete to hire new district leaders, it’s not entirely clear who actually wants and will be qualified to do these jobs.

The collective scramble for new leadership comes at a tense time for school boards

FactWhy was the naming of a superintendent needed during a potential search period of a new school board and why is a search firm needed?

The answer can be summarized in two key points: timing and the desire to be thorough. Per state law law, the only employee that a public school district must have under contract every day is a school superintendent.

Thus this outcry by the small vocal local group of why a contract for superintendent, it’s simple it is the law! 

New Mexico and federal laws requires two things to happen in tandem when a search proceeds for a public school superintendent. The board must contract an interim or short term superintendent, (Renteria is short term 1 year contract) and legally they must hire an executive search firm or have a comprehensive well documented and open process to conduct a fair, legal and ethical search that meets state and federal requirements. 

Fact: There is an importance of timing and a new board’s desire to be thorough to find the best leader as the next permanent superintendent for the district. Thus the one year contract with Renteria provides the new board members with plenty of room and to comply with timing needs of a potentially selected candidate.

Superintendents are sought and hired year-round, but the typical timeframe for posting a position and interviewing candidates is winter and early spring. In the most professional of circumstances of the best candidates they will typically require the ability to finish out the school year in their current district. The most sought after candidates help to ensure a smooth transition for their vacated position with their replacement and work to bridge their success. 

They the. begin in their new district over the summer to get acclimated before or as students arrive, and have a good foundation when school begins in the fall and working in tandem with the outgoing superintendent for a few months and then a clean break. 

Thus, if the new Alamogordo school board, after being sworn in acts in acts in the most professional manner, they will follow the process above, that is recommended by the American Association of School Administrators,  in seeking the best and brightest candidates, rather than rough shod, a quick hire and Alamogordo ends with the same results as in recent history of the last decade. 

The board members that approved Mrs Renteria, for only a 1 year contract, did so with open eyes and to help the new board. 

They did so recognizing the challenges that the new board will face in competition for superintendent in the present atmosphere and understanding the need to be more thorough than other districts and to hire for 1 year a successful person would meet many, if not all, of the following criteria:

Is experienced locally as an administrator someone who already knows how to lead a and has a successful track record.

Is available to commit with all of her heart one year. 

Is passionate about serving and working with APS someone who wants to continue to help and serve Alamogordo. 

Is familiar and knows the culture of Alamogordo and can easily pass that knowledge on to the eventual selected candidate without prejudice. 

Understands that the position is temporary for one year but May apply as a part of the national search if desired.

Brings a desire to listen, observe, engage, make decisions where/when necessary, lead, and most importantly help ensure a smooth transition to the next permanent superintendent.

Mrs Renteria fit that criteria, thus the decision of the present school board was not nefarious nor out of line, it was actually a decision to set the ground work to allow the new board to gain its footing, comply with state and federal law, allow continuity and ensure stability, so that a good national search via a positive process could occur.

Once the new board is sworn in and learns the rules of compliance and authority over time, they will better understand and embrace the decision that was made; as it allowed them some breathing room as they transition to power. 

Some Facts on the role of superintendents the new board should consider in its hiring decision 

Finding from thefrom the Broad Center show… 

Tenure was nearly 3.5 years shorter for superintendents in districts with the highest poverty levels. (Alamogordo fits that category)

As the percentage of students in poverty increased, so did superintendent turnover. The average tenure in districts where 76 percent to 100 percent of students was low-income was 5.13 years. In districts with 25 percent or fewer low-income students, the average superintendent tenure was 8.59 years.

Tenures for women are 15 months shorter. On average, women stayed on the job for about 5.18 years, while men stayed on the job for 6.42 years.

Eighty percent of U.S. school superintendents say that navigating political divides over issues ranging from school closures to health mandates to teaching about racism in schools is the most difficult part of their job. Nearly half say they are considering or planning to leave their job in the next two to three years.

These are among the findings in a new report, “2022 Voice of the Superintendent Survey,” released  by education company EAB at the School Superintendent Association (AASA) National Conference on Education. 

Superintendents are tired of mediating disputes fueled in large part by America’s deepening political divide,” said EAB Director of K-12 Research Ben Court. “EAB’s new survey shows that school superintendents have reached a breaking point, and up to half may be looking for a way out.”

According to AASA data, the typical annual turnover rate shows that nearly half of respondents (46 percent) are considering or planning to leave their role in the next two to three years. More than a third (36 percent) of experienced superintendents (6+ years of tenure) are planning to retire within that time frame. Among more junior superintendents (those with five years of experience or less), 18 percent say they will see how this year goes before deciding on future plans, and 6 percent are already actively looking for other work.

EAB’s new report follows a 2021 EAB survey of 2,200 teachers and nearly 400 district and school leaders that showed teacher morale is at an all-time low.

Low teacher morale has been well documented recently, but school superintendents are not faring much better,” Court added. “Many seasoned superintendents are looking toward retirement or new ventures. If those with less than five years in seat also leave, we could quickly face a crisis of leadership in school systems across the country.”

The new school board for Alamogordo Pubic Schools has many challenges ahead and high expectations from a very small but vocal group of citizens, let’s hope they do their homework to effectively lead and navigate the challenges of 2024 and beyond. 

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