Community Leaders: The Changing Role of School Superintendents

Oct 25, 2013

The role of a school superintendent has changed a lot recently: four local district leaders proved that Thursday night during the Northern Illinois University Education Department’s Superintendents Summit.

School Superintendents James Briscoe, Kathy Countryman, Brian Harris, and Ehren Jarrett ponder a question posed by NIU's Patrick Roberts.
Credit Susan Stephens / WNIJ

The leaders of Rockford, DeKalb, Sycamore, and Wheaton-Warrenville schools agreed there’s a new dynamic in their business: Sycamore Schools Superintendent Kathy Countryman summed it up:

“You don’t work for the school district. You work for the community.”

That means collaborating with other community leaders, building business relationships, even getting parents involved in strategic planning.

DeKalb Superintendent James Briscoe told the NIU students who attended the summit to keep that in mind as they enter their teaching careers: consider their jobs community service:

“With patience and humility, you can go a very long way in this career.”

Three of the four superintendents who took part in the forum earned their doctorates from NIU. College of Education dean Lavonne Neal says these leaders understand their evolving world.

“In order to spark the genius of all students, we have to customize for their difference without saying that it’s a deficit.”

And that means “mass customized learning.” It’s something Rockford Schools Superintendent Ehren Jarrett recognizes as the style of teaching…and learning…that will be standard someday soon.

“Let each student have their own learning plan, and there’s still the social dynamics of being together in the classroom, but each student is operating according to their own pace. And the teacher is really a facilitator, providing feedback, challenging and providing individual instruction as needed.”

Another group of superintendents is stretching the concept of the classroom…even the school district. Wheaton superintendent Brian Harris is working with four other districts to develop a virtual school district. Students would be able to attend one, or all, of their classes on-line, with teachers and students from the five-district consortium.

“Naperville has a teacher who can teach Mandarin, so if that teacher can do it virtually, we will have some students who will opt into that, in that environment. The possibilities are endless for us. It’s a neat opportunity for us.”

The forum was part of the NIU College of Education’s Community Learning Series.