A national survey of school superintendents revealed the almost two-year-old COVID pandemic — and its polarizing politics over masks and other issues — are taking a toll on some school leaders.
Nearly half of the survey respondents said they are considering or planning to leave their job in the next two to three years.
Some local superintendents weren't surprised by the survey results.
Officials at the Washington, D.C.-based Education Advisory Board announced their survey results last week. The surveys were gathered from 141 U.S. public school superintendents from Nov. 6 to Feb. 3 — during a recent national conference of the School Superintendent Association.
Respondents said the stress and pressures of dealing with the pandemic since its onset in March 2020 wore them down.
Eighty percent of U.S. school superintendents participating in the survey said navigating contentious political disputes — over issues ranging from school closures to mask mandates to teaching about racism in schools — are the most difficult part of their job.
“Superintendents are tired of mediating disputes fueled in large part by America’s deepening political divide,” noted EAB Director of K-12 Research Ben Court in a released statement.
“EAB’s new survey shows that school superintendents have reached a breaking point, and up to half may be looking for a way out,” Court said.
“According to (survey) data, the typical annual turnover rate for school superintendents is 14 to 16 percent. EAB’s survey shows that nearly half of respondents (46 percent) are considering or planning to leave their role in the next two to three years.”
Moreover, noted Court, “more than a third (36 percent) of experienced superintendents (of six-plus 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.”
Billy Smith, superintendent of the 10,000-student Fairfield Schools, said he understands the survey’s finding.
“The most challenging and surprising piece to me (during the pandemic) was the fact that school officials and leaders were being asked to make important decisions about public health.”
“I never imagined being asked to make decisions about public health mandates, protocols and procedures,” said Smith, who was not among the survey respondents.
“Navigating through a pandemic has certainly presented a lot of challenges. Eventually, school leaders had to accept the fact that our decisions would result in making about half of the people happy and the other half disappointed,” he said.
Talawanda Schools Superintendent Ed Theroux said the pressures of the now nearly two-year pandemic worsened chronic problems in Ohio public schools, specifically unfunded state mandates while relinquishing responsibilities forcing school leaders to step up.
“It’s been unbelievably difficult,” said Theroux, also not a survey participant.
“The pandemic is one more event that has occurred that has deeply burdened our schools. Our government has forced school leaders to manage a major public health crisis with zero medical and health expertise,” he said.
“This country and our local communities are deeply divided about their thoughts about the virus, vaccines, and the wearing of masks and school officials have had no choice but to be the receiver of all of that frustration and do their best to manage parent and community members’ expectations.”
Smith echoed Theroux, who said the unavoidable loss of resources due to the COVID-19 crisis has detracted from educating the next generation.
“We are educators and we desperately want to get back to our passion: Providing the very best educational experience for our kids.”
“In the end, I am hopeful that we have made it to the other side of this pandemic, said Smith, who added he remains steadfast in his job dedication.