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Why high turnover continues for area school superintendents

Mason City Schools Superintendent Gail Kist-Kline speaks during a meeting earlier this year about the district s expansion and improvement plans. This school year will be the final one for Kist-Kline who has announced she is retiring and will take a new job as president at The Christ College of Nursing & Health Science.
Mason City Schools Superintendent Gail Kist-Kline speaks during a meeting earlier this year about the district s expansion and improvement plans. This school year will be the final one for Kist-Kline who has announced she is retiring and will take a new job as president at The Christ College of Nursing & Health Science.

The historically high turnover rate among school superintendents in Butler County has slowed a bit but not stopped.

Last week Monroe Schools announced its new leader, as did Talawanda Schools earlier this month.

Explore MORE: Monroe Schools pick official from high performing district to lead
Explore MORE: Talawanda Schools choose new leader

And the status of Hamilton Schools Superintendent Tony Orr remains undecided after he was placed on paid leave by the district’s school board.

An interim superintendent — Business Director Larry Knapp — has taken over in Orr’s absence since Feb. 5.

And bordering southern Butler County are Mason Schools — the largest school system in Warren County — which will soon have a new superintendent.

A year ago, 22 public and private school districts — including the Cincinnati Archdiocese schools and two county career schools — in the two counties saw 14 had hired new superintendents since 2015.

Explore MORE: Local school leader turnover at historic high

The two counties reflect a national trend of recent years as the Baby Boomer-age generation of local school superintendents near retirement, and more are deciding to move on. The reasons vary per each leader but almost all seem to agree on one thing.

The job takes a toll on family.

“My decision to retire is based primarily on my desire to spend more time with my wife, sons and grand kids,” said Monroe Superintendent Phil Cagwin, a veteran Butler County district leader of two school systems who retires this summer.

Explore MORE: Monroe school leader announces retirement

The responsibilities and the pressures of the job are increasingly impacted by societal forces far beyond the school campus boundaries, said Cagwin, who will be replaced Aug. 1 by Wyoming Schools’ Assistant Superintendent Kathy Demers.

“Our public schools have been required to undertake many tasks beyond what we trained for in college,” said Cagwin, who for a decade was also superintendent of Talawanda Schools.

“When our society struggles, legislators often see the schools as the primary institution to fix our societal problems. Over the years public schools have been forced to help young people deal with topics that used to be addressed in the home,” he said.

According to the American Association of School Administrators, a national organization for school superintendents: The mean tenure for a superintendent is five to six years and the annual turnover rate for superintendents is between 14 percent and 16 percent.

Explore MORE: Still no word on why Hamilton school leader was ordered on leave

Former Ohio school superintendent Tom Ash, director of government relations at Buckeye Association of School Administrators, said he is hearing family stress and job pressures cited more often by departing school leaders.

“Superintendents relish the charge that they have been given, but there are times when they begin to reflect about the families that they may have neglected over the years,” said Ash. “I think that this is natural for almost anyone approaching retirement years.”

The turnover trend locally — and statewide — will continue, he predicts.

“I believe that superintendent vacancies are going to increase throughout Ohio as veteran superintendents are beginning to look at retirement as a new phase in a journey through their lives,” said Ash.

Gail Kist-Kline has led Mason Schools — one of Ohio’s top-rated academic performers — for seven years but last fall announced she will be leaving the job after 30 years in public education.

Explore MORE: Mason Schools leader leaving

Kist-Kline is not retiring but rather shifting gears and starting as president at The Christ College of Nursing & Health Science in July.

“It’s 24-7. It’s a day job, a night job and a weekend job - and to do it right, you have to do all three of those things. The weight of all those decisions can take a toll on one’s health and family,” she said.

“The pressure of the job has certainly changed over the years - not just for superintendents, but for all public servants. As the demand for what our public schools must accomplish and solve has grown, so too has the demand on our teachers, administrators and board members,” said Kist-Kline.

If you like making everybody happy, said Cagwin, you’ll be happier in a different job.

Cagwin said “a school superintendent has the challenge of answering to five distinct school board members, who are influenced by parents, community members, alumni, faculty, staff and students.”

“I have found that it is impossible in this role to please all parties at all times,” he said. “But if I stay true to making decisions that I believe are in the best interest of the children we serve in our schools, then I am grateful to have that opportunity to serve.”

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