Fort Worth school board members are trying to figure out who their next superintendent should be. 

Will it be a person whose top focus is turning around student outcomes? Will it be a nontraditional candidate as Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker has suggested?

Regardless, Fort Worth ISD’s next superintendent — or any leader of the more than 1,000 school districts in Texas — must meet certain legal requirements before taking charge of one of the state’s largest school systems.

The Texas Education Agency lists four requirements for someone to be a superintendent:

  • Hold a master’s degree.
  • Have a principal certificate or an equivalent from TEA, another state or country, or have completed a superintendent certificate application and have approval from TEA to substitute managerial experience in place of a principal certificate.
  • Complete an approved superintendent educator preparation program.
  • Pass a required exam with 110 questions that takes nearly five hours to complete.

What is a superintendent?

A superintendent is the top administrator of a school district. Elected school board members hire and fire their districts’ superintendent, the only position that reports directly to trustees.

Superintendents are in charge of the day-to-day operations of school districts. Superintendents also put in place any policies and directions from the school board. 

They also recommend the hiring and firing of staff. Additionally, superintendents are in charge of preparing an annual budget. 

Jo Beth Jimerson is a professor at Texas Christian University’s College of Education, where she studies school leadership. Superintendents can bring substantive change to school districts, she said in a previous interview with the Fort Worth Report. However, the average time a superintendent stays in a large district is about six years.

“The superintendent position isn’t one where people tend to stay a long time, but it’s really important to find somebody who can stay for several years because … it takes three to five years for substantive change,” Jimerson said.

Superintendents in Texas have been in their current district for a median of three years, according to a Texas Association of School Boards survey. They also have a median of five years of overall experience as a superintendent. About 67% of superintendents have only been in that position for their current district.

This school year, 98 districts had new superintendents; 69 of them hired a person with no previous experience as the top administrator.

How does a district select a superintendent?

School boards often use a third-party firm to find a new superintendent. Occasionally, school boards will have their district’s human resources department to conduct superintendent searches.

For example, in April, the Fort Worth ISD school board hired Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates of Schaumburg, Illinois, to find a person to succeed Superintendent Kent Scribner. 

Together, the search firm and school board establish a timeline to find a new superintendent. They also seek community input, which is used to decide the qualities the district’s next leader should have.

Like many jobs, all you have to do is apply to be a superintendent. The search firm and school board will go through the candidates and determine a group of potential superintendents before winnowing the list down further to a lone finalist through an interview process.

The lone finalist has to wait 21 days before officially starting as superintendent.

What’s the pay like?

The median superintendent salary across the state this school year is $143,969, according to a survey from the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators.

In districts with more than 50,000 students, the average superintendent salary is $347,733. 

The five superintendents who have the highest base salaries in Tarrant County are: 

  • Jose Cavazos of Arlington ISD – $355,302
  • Lane Ledbetter of Carroll ISD – $347,715
  • Jim Chadwell of Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD – $341,028
  • Scribner of Fort Worth ISD – $330,000
  • Robin Ryan of Grapevine-Colleyville ISD – $327,769

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.