Superintendent salaries vary by school district size and region. The mean salary for a superintendent in a school district of 25,000 students or more is $225,897. That seems like a lot of money, until you compare that salary to those of CEOs running similar-size companies in the S&P 500. Salary alone for those professionals comes in at $1,041,012—and total compensation for that group averages to $9,246,697. We are urged to run our schools like businesses, but not to pay the same.

The most recent report on the superintendency, “The American School Superintendent: 2010 Decennial Study,” provides us with a factual description of the many aspects of the job. Since Birdsey G. Northrop of Massachusetts became AASA’s first president in 1865, the superintendency has evolved through various phases. During Birdsey’s years, the superintendent was considered to be a teacher-scholar who worked full-time supervising classroom instruction and assured a uniform curriculum. He—because in those days, superintendents were predominantly male—emerged as the community’s educational leader, a role that is still very much a function of the job today. Note that “nontraditional” superintendents, those hired for the job without any education experience, fail to fulfill this historic requirement for being a superintendent.

It was not until the first half of the 20th century that the role of the superintendent as a business manager emerged. Prompted by the Industrial Revolution, school boards in large city districts began to require managerial skills in addition to pedagogical knowledge. Today, managerial skills—particularly in these tough economic times—are more important than ever. This is perhaps one of the reasons why nontraditional superintendents with business backgrounds are being hired by large school systems like New York City.

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The period between the Great Depression and the end of World War II gave birth to the superintendent as a statesman. The growth of school systems and the growing relationship between them and the communities they served, as well as other governmental entities, required these managerial/educational leaders to delve into the political arena and engage in policy making as it affected the schools. This aspect of the superintendency is critical today at both the state and federal levels. With the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the actions being taken at many statehouses as a result of revenue shortfalls, organizations like AASA and our state affiliates are playing a major advocacy role in helping to shape education policy—and superintendent leaders are effective in providing testimony before legislative bodies.