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Board to decide if school superintendents need teaching experience

Texas superintendents no longer would need classroom experience to lead a school district, under a proposal that has rankled educators across the state and is being heard Wednesday by the State Board of Education.

The rule change, which has been approved by the State Board for Educator Certification, would give school boards the flexibility to hire a superintendent who has a managerial background but lacks experience in education.

The change eliminates the requirement that superintendent candidates previously serve as campus principals and teachers.

“We have opposed this from the very beginning,” said Kate Kuhlmann, lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the state’s largest educator organization. “Our biggest concern is this does not require that these candidates have any background in education. We believe experience in education is a critical contributing factor to the success of an administrator.”

Kuhlmann said that without having served in the classroom, administrators cannot fully understand what goes on there, the needs of the students, or the decisions they must make regarding classroom management, curriculum and instruction.

Those in favor of the rule change say the classroom requirement edges out administrators with other types of experience that are also valuable.

Leon Leal, a State Board for Educator Certification member, said the role of the superintendent has become more complex, as districts grapple with financial challenges. As many superintendent’s salaries have exceeded six figures, Leal said qualified current or retired CEOs would be willing to move into education to creatively find ways to manage districts’ budgets and operate school systems more efficiently.

“We have challenges as school districts right now across the state, and I think it’s time to give nontraditional superintendents the opportunity to see if they can help,” Leal said. “We’re not mandating them to do it. It’s just an option.”

Leal said the push for change not only came from business leaders, but also from some school districts wanting more flexibility.

Current rules require superintendents to have a master’s degree and a principal certification, which requires at least two years as a classroom teacher, as well as to complete a superintendent preparation program. Those who don’t must apply for a state waiver.

The new rules would require candidates with three years of managerial experience to also have a post-baccalaureate degree and take a superintendent certification preparation program.

Nearly all superintendents of the state’s 1,200 or so traditional public school districts have their superintendent certifications, with fewer than two dozen on a waiver.

Superintendent Charles Dupre, who left the Pflugerville district in April 2013 to lead the Fort Bend school district, is one of the few Texas superintendents who didn’t teach. Dupre has spent the past two decades in education, transitioning from a certified public accountant and chief financial officer for a district to taking the helm in Pflugerville.

Each time Dupre has been hired as a superintendent, the districts had to apply for a waiver through the Texas Education Agency because he lacks the state certification.

Dupre said whoever a school board hires must have “a combination of strong leadership skills and a strong heart for students,” but if a board wants to hire someone who doesn’t possess the certification, there should be a way to do it.

Dupre said he doesn’t have to be a former teacher to engage with teachers, saying teachers “are the heart and soul of the school district and … any leader, especially a superintendent, would be foolish to ignore their voice or their needs.”

“I’ve never been a teacher and I’ve never been a principal, but the fact is we’re all on the same team on behalf of the children in the community,” Dupre said.

It would take a two-thirds vote of the 15-member State Board of Education to reject the rules change. While fairly unusual, the board has rejected the educator certification board’s recommendations before.

Last year, members rejected raising the minimum college GPA needed for aspiring teachers to be admitted into educator preparation programs.

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