COVID-19 protocols, politics driving school superintendents to leave in big numbers

Karl Rove on national push to roll back COVID-related school mandates: Parents are ‘concerned’

The Fox News contributor joined ‘America’s Newsroom’ to discuss Republican-led states pushing back on school mask mandates nationwide.

It’s been widely reported there is a shortage of teachers these days. But there’s a growing crisis of those who will lead them. School superintendents are leaving the profession in droves with an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 departing this academic year, according to Ray & Associates consulting firm, which works with school boards to find candidates.

There is no doubt COVID-19, mask mandates, virtual learning and more are contributing factors, but that isn’t the entire picture.

“Superintendents are spending a lot of time addressing socio-political concerns and not nearly the amount of time they want to spend on the development and the educational attainment of students,” Michael Collins, president of Ray & Associates, told Fox News.

Another factor is once sleepy school board meetings have gotten heated in recent months as parents have grown more frustrated over COVID issues and about what is being taught in classrooms.

Students attend class on the first day of school for the 2021-2022 year at Gounod Lavoisier Primary school in Lille, northern France, Sept. 2 2021.
(AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

With meetings being streamed online, a superintendent candidate can see the challenges and tensions in a particular school district early on in the interview process.

“They always did their homework, but now they have the opportunity to see board members to see where they stand on the political realm and how they interact with one another before even submitting an application,” Molly Schwarzhoff, executive vice president of Ray & Associates, said. 

“It’s just important that those boards realize that they’re being observed, and they’re being interviewed. It’s a two-way street now. That’s kind of what COVID has done is they’ve opened up this two-way street for interviews.”

Debra Pace is the superintendent of Osceola, Florida, schools. She leads a school district with 70,000 students and describes it as a 24/7 year-round job.

Pace says she’s stayed in her position in part because Osceola is her home, and her children have been educated in the school system there.

“I particularly feel a strong need to get us to the other side of the pandemic, to get us back to a true sense of what’s normal and, more importantly, to help kids catch up from the learning that’s been lost and to help support our teachers and know that I’m here for them,” Pace told Fox News.

A child wearing a mask arrives at school during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City Jan. 5, 2022.
(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Pace says superintendents leaning on each other has been a huge help. 

“Certainly, as we’re all facing the same challenges with masks and no masks and face-to-face learning versus digital learning and the social emotional needs of our kids now that they are all back in the building,” Pace said. “And even our staff, we’re really still seeing the stress of the pandemic on their shoulders. So that concept of ‘phone a friend’ is really, really helpful to help you problem solve.”

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