KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Five East Tennessee school districts will need new directors before the start of next year, but the leader of the state's organization of superintendents said it could be tough to find candidates amid a surge in openings.
The leaders of Knox, Blount, Sevier, Hamblen and Jefferson County schools have all announced intentions to retire or resign by the start of the next school year — Sevier County has already named an interim director.
"Education is difficult in even the best of times, but we’re in the middle of a pandemic now," said Dale Lynch, the Executive Director of the Tennessee Organization of Schools Superintendents. "The superintendency was hard enough without COVID."
He said his organization is seeing an increase in openings for the top job in central offices across the state. The average tenure of a school superintendent is 3.5 to 4 years, but pandemic pressures have sped that up.
Besides COVID-19, top school officials must also contend with changing directives from state lawmakers, teachers, parents and budgets. In Knox County alone, the base budget for the school district is $542 million.
"Most school system budgets are among the largest ones in their community," Lynch said. "I think communities and boards of education need to know what superintendents face when they come into this role and I think they need to make sure they provide the right support for their superintendent to be successful."
He said new superintendents often face a steep learning curve — and may not have much time to climb it.
"You have to be able to hit the ground running," he said.
Boards of Education are responsible for naming new directors of schools. In Knox County, the board has held several feedback sessions and contracted with the state school board association to recruit candidates.
In addition to working with the board and teachers, Lynch said strong superintendents must make connections with their communities.
"I think being a problem-solver makes a superintendent successful, but we’re in the people business. You have to be able to build relationships with people," he said.