Program addresses need for superintendents
Cohort groups learn the ins and outs of running a school district

Newspaper headlines report the troubling shortage of certified teachers in Texas and nationwide. Rarely mentioned is the shortage of qualified administrators, particularly school superintendents. Now in its fourth year, the College of Education Superintendency Program is helping meet that need.

Director Ron Caloss notes that 62 percent of the superintendents in Texas’ 1,054 school districts are eligible to retire. However, teachers and principals cannot simply take the top spot. The office requires state certification, and that, Dr. Caloss says, requires training.

UTA’s one-year program packs a lot into 15 credit hours for those up to the challenge. The students, working in a group called a cohort, must already hold mid-management or principal’s certification, must be currently practicing administrators and must submit a letter of recommendation from someone in their district.

In September 2000, the first cohort began with 18 students from 15 school districts. Last fall, the cohort had 28 people. To attract those first participants, Caloss sent letters to superintendents in more than 75 North Texas districts.

Since then, no advertising has been necessary. News of the program has spread. Already, two graduates are serving as superintendents, while several others are assistants in districts throughout the area.

This year’s cohort members come from the Maypearl, Dallas, DeSoto, Crowley, Birdville, Midlothian, Fort Worth, Cedar Hill, Grand Prairie and Palmer school districts. 

Willa Gibson plans to be one of the new administrators, perhaps an assistant superintendent. After 20 years in education, the athletic director in the Birdville Independent School District joined the UTA program to see district administration from the superintendent’s view.

“I wanted to know how things are handled on a day-to-day basis,” she said.

She’s getting that from the program—and its leader.

“I can’t say enough great things about Dr. Caloss,” she said. “He really makes it all worthwhile. Sometimes courses like these can just be a study in endurance, but he keeps it exciting and interesting every week.”

Cohort members, who meet Saturdays, begin their year with a course, The Superintendency, taught by Caloss, who was a superintendent for 23 years. Each student also completes a 150-hour internship in his or her district. “They attend board meetings, serve on committees, observe and critique everything they see,” Caloss said.

In the second semester, the students continue their internships in addition to completing courses in advanced school law, and curriculum and personnel. The year ends with a course on school finance.

“This is a field-based program,” Caloss said. “They have to get out and get involved.”

Lynn Dehart, the principal at North Dallas High School, began his education career 17 years ago as a member of the first alternative teacher certification program in Dallas. After seven years as a principal, the next step is into the superintendent’s office.

“Education runs on certification, and the UTA Superintendency Program is the best one around,” Dehart said. “To obtain the superintendency certification, you must pass the state test, and this program gets you ready for that.”

Caloss, who retired in 1999 after spending the last eight years of his career leading the Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD, emphasizes again and again the importance of such training. “There’s going to be a dire need for superintendents, just like there’s a dire need for teachers and principals. The UTA program is the largest of its kind in Texas, and the need is great.”

He’s also convinced that school districts will be pleased with those who return from the program, newly certified and prepared to serve.

“These students have the traits necessary for success as superintendents. They all have passion, adaptability and courage. You need passion, because you’ve got to love the work. It can be painful, difficult and lonely at times. You need adaptability because schools and situations are constantly changing. From year to year, accountability standards change, demographics change, and you have to switch gears, always be adaptable. Finally, you need the courage to make decisions—tough decisions about taxes, staff, curriculum, even political matters.”

The Texas State Board for Educator Certification offers two certificates for administrators—principal and superintendent. With the shortage of superintendents, Caloss says current principals and mid-management professionals who complete UTA’s program should have top jobs beckoning from all over Texas.

— Sherry W. Neaves

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