Short superintendent tenures concern state

Staff and Wire Reports

ALBUQUERQUE — More than half of the state’s 89 school districts will be led by superintendents who have two years or less in their current positions when classes start this year.
In Roosevelt County, two school districts recently parted ways with their superintendents. Fort Sumner and Clovis also have new superintendents.
James Holloway left Portales this spring after six years to take a state job while Floyd schools has had three superintendents in the last three years.
“I really felt at home,” said Holloway, who took the position of assistant secretary Rural Education Secretary for the New Mexico Department. “(But this job offer is) an opportunity I just can’t pass up. It’s something I feel will stretch my wings and talents.”
The Portales School Board selected Randy Fowler to replace Holloway and Fowler has been superintendent since July 5.
Portales School Board member Alan Garrett said his adjustments with Holloway and Fowler were smooth. Garrett said he has seen the statistic about more than half of the 89 school districts and questioned the reasons.
He believes there are many changes because of retirement or a mutual understanding between school board members and the outgoing superintendent.
Garrett also said he would like to see how this year compares to the previous years.
“A lot of it has to do with people wanting immediate improvements and changes,” Garrett said. “Some believe a new superintendent will give them that. It’s part of the American culture. Improvements and changes take time.”
Over the last two years at Floyd, Wally Feldman left to take a job elsewhere in the state and Wayne McCullar resigned this spring for personal reasons.
Paul Benoit, who worked for two years as superintendent for Animas School District, is the new Floyd boss.
Benoit citing wanting to be closer to family in eastern New Mexico.
The local cases highlight a trend that some say is creating instability in school districts — superintendents aren’t staying long in their positions. Nationally, the tenure of a school chief averages about three years.
Tom Sullivan, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition of School Administrators, said the turnover in New Mexico is disturbing because superintendents have different priorities and theories on how students should be taught. Changing priorities can affect how students learn, he said.
“It’s disconcerting,” said Sullivan, a former superintendent in Farmington. “It isn’t very healthy for the kids. It isn’t very healthy for the community.”
Superintendents leave for a number of personal reasons, including retirement. But Sullivan said some leave after public battles with school boards.
Underlying those disputes was state legislation approved in 2003 that gives superintendents complete authority over hiring and setting salaries.
In Espanola, the superintendent came under fire after he extended administrators’ contracts and handed out promotions. Showing their displeasure, board members voted not to extend his contract.
“Since (boards) don’t have a say anymore in who gets hired, they just get rid of the superintendent,” said Bud Mulcock, a lobbyist for the administrators coalition. “We could lose a lot of talent.”
Rhonda Seidenwurm, recently hired as the Clovis superintendent, said the legislation addressed the school boards’ power but not their influence.
“Board members collectively have power. Board members individually have influence,” she said, noting that superintendents have to respect that influence and work with it.
State Education Secretary Veronica C. Garcia said there has been “an element of distrust” between boards and superintendents since the legislation was approved.
Toby Herrera, director of schools and community partnerships for the Albuquerque district, said superintendents know their jobs can be temporary.
“You’ve got to be a carpetbagger if you’re going to be a superintendent in New Mexico,” Herrera said. “You’ve got to have your bags packed and ready to go.”
There has to be more training for both sides to ease tensions, Garcia said. She suggested school districts with less-experienced superintendents look to those with longer-serving leaders, such as Artesia head Mike Phipps.
This marks Phipps’ 14th school year. Asked how he has been able to keep his job for so long, he said: “I don’t know. I guess I keep fooling them.”