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Posts Tagged ‘District Size’

This is the second in a series of posts that will share some of my findings from my recent doctoral dissertation – How BC School Superintendents Spend Their Time.

It won’t surprise anyone that the size of a school district impacts the work of the superintendent.  It is true in likely almost any organization, the smaller the organization the more hands-on the boss is in the daily work.   

While BC has 60 school districts, they have a tremendous range in student populations. Two districts, Surrey and Vancouver, combine for a greater student population than the combined population of more than 50% of the other 58 school districts in British Columbia.  The 60 districts range in populations from a few hundred students to more than 70,000 students.  As an example of the diversity, the Stikine School District (School District 87) has fewer than 300 students in an area of over 80,000 square kilometers—twice the size of Switzerland.

It seems that providing all 60 superintendents with the same support when their populations are so different is a poor idea. Superintendents in the smaller districts regularly commented in the study that they had to take on a greater number of roles, as there are just not enough staff to take the different responsibilities. Often, superintendents of the smallest school districts described a job that seemed completely different from those of the larger school districts.  In many ways, it seemed as those the superintendents in the study were reporting on two different jobs – those done by superintendents in the largely urban, higher student population school districts and those done by superintendents in the largely rural, lower student population school districts.

In looking at 33 management and leadership tasks, my study confirmed what other researchers had found before, the unsurprising finding that those in smaller student population districts are more directly involved in the daily operations than their large student population colleagues. In mapping the data though, it was not as simple as plotting all 60 districts by population and you would see the shift in levels of direct responsibility continuously decline from the smallest to the largest district.  

Superintendents with student populations below 6,000 and particularly below 2,000 students had higher levels of direct involvement in tasks, but above 6,000 students, there was not very much difference. Superintendents of districts with between 6,000 and 10,000 students reported a lower level of direct responsibility than each of the three higher population categories.

Superintendents in districts of 2000 students or fewer averaged 2.77 on their level of involvement on the 33 management and leadership tasks (this is based on a 4 point scale, where a 4 would indicate primary responsibility for all tasks). The next highest were the districts of up to 6,000 students, at 2.48. All of the remaining superintendents in the other four population categories averaged between 2.23 and 2.38. It appears there is a threshold at which superintendents’ direct involvement drops, and then it levels off.

A superintendent of a district with a population of about 8,000 students would likely have the same level of direct involvement in activities as a superintendent of 18,000 or 28,000 students. It seems that at a threshold of about 6,000 students, a district is large enough that it has senior-level staff that can be delegated some of the specific tasks that take place in the board office. The remaining tasks stay with the superintendents as a primary responsibility even in the largest school districts.

Superintendents from smaller districts were far more likely to spend additional hours each week on educational leadership than those from larger districts.  Educational leadership includes tasks like spending time with teachers and administrators focused on learning initiatives, being in classrooms, and supporting the district efforts around curriculum and assessment.  Thirteen of the 14 superintendents who spent at least 16 hours a week on educational leadership related activities were from districts with student populations of no more than 6,000 students. Conversely, three of the six superintendents from the largest districts of more than 22,000 students indicated they spent more than 21 hours a week on average with their Board.

Moreover, superintendents from smaller districts had more time for educational leadership activities than those from larger districts, who often spend a lot of their hours with their board and on governance issues. In the districts of up to 6000 students, 25 of the 31 superintendents reported they spent more than 10 hours a week on educational leadership activities, while only seven of the remaining 28 superintendents in districts with more than 6000 students reported they spent more than 10 hours a week on educational leadership activities.

So, if you want to be a superintendent and spend time on educational leadership, one of the conclusions you could make is that you want to be a superintendent of a school district of with a population of no more than about 6,000 students.  Of course, if you want to be immersed in board governance, one of the large districts may be the right spot for you.   

Want to read more?  My full dissertation is available under the research tab.  Next week I will look at the level of experience with BC School Superintendents.  

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