By Jennifer Wohlleb
Whether a district's superintendent is a short-termer or a long-termer, having a plan for leadership succession is a must, said KSBA conference workshop presenter Dr. Kevin Hub.
Hub, who is in his 11th year as an assistant superintendent with Madison County Schools, has worked under four different leaders during that time and has seen firsthand the value of being prepared.
“A lot of corporations take big peaks and valleys when they transition their CEOs. Proctor and Gamble has managed to maintain their share of the market and reputation from quality while changing leadership,” Hub said. “I think that should be your goal in school districts, to maintain the good things that you’re doing, certainly with an eye out for a possibility of positive change if something does change.”
Photo: Dr. Kevin Hub, assistant superintendent of Madison County Schools, left, answers question following his presentation at KSBA's annual conference.
With shorter superintendent tenures, it's common sense to prepare for the inevitable, he said.
“I believe four-year contracts should not indicate that you maybe have three years of comfort and one year of planning," he said. "There are lots of superintendents who for a variety of reasons don't complete their contracts. I'm glad to hear (a board member in the audience) say, 'Our superintendent just signed a four-year contract; now is the time to start planning.'"
Hub said school boards can treat leadership succession preparation just like any other agenda item.
“I'm going to challenge you to think about board agendas, think about what you do in your work sessions: How much focus is there on leader development and succession planning?” he asked. “I bet you do a lot with fiscal planning …facilities planning, you probably do a lot looking at redistricting and construction planning and student achievement and extracurriculars. How much time is devoted on your agendas to leadership development?”
He said developing a program for aspiring leaders makes the district stronger and helps the district fill other vacancies seamlessly.
“Create a system for identifying leadership talent, and you will have an intentional system that you can ask your superintendent to give you progress on,” Hub said.
He said succession should not be a plan for one individual to get the next job.
“If you have an effective succession plan and you're growing a group of leaders, then it's real easy for you to pick one of a dozen in your bench who is going to be an outstanding instructional supervisor, director of operations, a special ed director,” Hub said. “So a lot of focus is on boards and superintendents, but organizationally, there are a lot of reasons why we want to continue thinking about succession planning."
Nurturing and promoting leadership among employees may take some time to come to fruition, but Hub said it's worth the wait.
“Madison County had a program called Grow Our Own. When it first started, the superintendent got a lot of flack because we were growing everybody else's,” leaders, Hub said. “We didn't have a lot of leadership turnover, but the superintendent was OK with that. Madison County spent a lot of time and effort growing our teachers and if we didn't have openings, maybe they went to Fayette or Clark or Jessamine counties. I will tell you that we've attracted several of those people back. "
Supporting a system of growing leaders from within an organization does not mean it has to hire an internal superintendent candidate when a vacancy occurs.
“If you have an effective succession plan, you're going to maintain some institutional knowledge,” he said. “Effective succession planning is going to build a good bench. For example, in our organization it's been OK to hire someone (externally) who does not have organizational knowledge because all my peers still maintain organizational knowledge. So by choosing someone from the outside, it didn't totally run the train off the track. You can do both.”
One of the biggest barriers to a succession plan can be the superintendent, but Hub said it's the greatest way to protect his or her legacy.
“Secure leaders, it's great if when they leave the district can say, he left and the district didn't skip a beat," he said. "Insecure leaders, that bothers them; secure leaders, it doesn't bother them — that's just what's supposed to happen. Great leaders prepare their organizations for when they are no longer there.”