Revolving door superintendents

If school board members Gunnar Paulson, Rob Hyatt and Mildred Russell fire Superintendent Carlee Simon next week – and it appears they will – she will have had just under 15 months on the job.

That’s not much time in which to prove her chops. Heck, just coping with Covid in the schools was a full-time job.

On the other hand, this district has a penchant for changing superintendents like…well…socks.

Consider that it has been 50 years since Alachua County stopped electing school superintendents and started appointing them. The idea was to make the job less political by selecting superintendents on the basis of credentials not rhetoric.

So how’s that worked out?

Let’s just say the historical record indicates that new superintendents ought to keep their bags packed. Just in case.

Indeed, since 1972, only one superintendent managed a full decade on the job.

That was Doug Magann, who came here from North Carolina and served from 1981-91.

The only other superintendent to approach Magann’s tenure was Dan Boyd. The former Gainesville High School principal served 9 years, from 2004-13.

Boyd at least had home field advantage. Most superintendents hired from outside the district haven’t fared very well.

Owen Roberts, 2 years. Lawrence Marazza, 2 years. Robert Hughes gets the longevity runner-up (after Magann) prize for lasting 6 years.

Here’s a fun fact. In half a century of interim and appointed superintendents, 75 percent have served for three years or less.

We’ve had 16 superintendents come and go since 1972. Talk about a coaching carousel.

Are our school board members so impatient that they’re not willing to give superintendents enough time to prove themselves?

Does the fact that our superintendents seem to be caught in a revolving door have anything to do with this district’s inability to address problems like our shameful White/Black student achievement gap (worst in Florida)?

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Our school district may be the most insular and change-resistant bureaucracy in Alachua County. That we’ve seen so many superintendents come and go may be an indication of just how difficult it is for anyone to reorganize, reform or reimagine how we go about educating our children in this county.

So what’s the beef with Simon?

She terminated nine administrators. This apparently had a “chilling effect” on other administrators, according to Hyatt.

Message: Don’t move anybody’s cheese if you want to keep your job.

If you want to put a positive spin on Simon’s imminent firing, it is that she has already lasted longer than half a dozen of her predecessors.

But let’s be honest about what’s really going on here.

We Alachua County voters tend to elect people to the school board who have been veteran teachers and principals in the very district we now expect them to oversee. It’s no stretch to imagine that board members – like Hyatt and Paulson – who themselves rose through the district ranks – may place protecting the status quo above all other considerations.

Hence our superintendent revolving door syndrome.

Simon thought she could choose her own leadership team. She is about to be disabused of that notion.

And she won’t be the first to find that out. That’s what revolving doors are for.

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