More than 300 public school district superintendents have resigned since 2006, state Education Department records show. Another 218 have retired or been fired during that same time.
Records show that smaller districts have been particularly hard hit by these exiting administrators.
Between 2006 and 2011, state Education Department records show that 312 district superintendents resigned from their jobs. So far this year, five have resigned, although the bulk of the resignations typically come later in the school year.
2008 was peak year
The peak came in 2008, when 75 left via resignation. Only 35 resigned in 2006.
Between 2007 and 2011 — with exception of the high-water mark in 2008 — between 49 and 53 superintendents resigned.
Why so many superintendents are leaving depends on who you ask.
Tricia Pemberton, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department, said trends in resignations, retirements and terminations among Oklahoma superintendents typically fluctuate from year to year and depend largely on the local district’s school board or community.
Derald Glover, longtime Fort Gibson Public Schools superintendent, said local issues play a part in what he called “an exodus” of school administrators, but believes there’s a stronger force behind the resignations, retirements and firings.
Glover, a third-generation school superintendent, is chairman of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration and a past president of the Oklahoma Association of School Administrators.
“There are always local challenges in schools, and different dynamics can cause a superintendent or educator to leave. Those have always been there,” Glover said. “I think now there are more state and federal challenges being placed on educators, in general, than ever before.”
Glover pointed to reforms undertaken by state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, which include a letter grade system for individual schools.
“We have a lot of reform being pressed down on us all at once,” Glover said. “It is extremely difficult to manage the day-to-day local functions and local visions of the school when you have reform measures piled on very heavily.
“I think that’s why you’re seeing more and more people get out this profession and fewer and fewer getting in.”
Barresi’s reforms focus on changing the way students are taught, restructuring the state Education Department and reforming schools.
Next month, schools will be given letter grades — A through F — based on their performance, school officials announced earlier in the week.
The letter grades will be based on a variety of factors, including test scores, student demographics and attendance.
“We’re not against those reforms, most of them,” he said. “Most of them are good reforms, ... they’re just being tossed out a bit haphazardly without a lot of thought on how to, realistically, implement them.”
Barresi, who expected pushback on her reforms from the outset, stands behind her long-term vision for the state public education system.
“We believe the reforms enacted over the past several years are having a positive effect on the state,” Barresi said.
While dozens of Oklahoma school districts have had to deal with replacing their superintendents since 2006, some districts have been busier than others.
Varnum Public Schools, a small district in Seminole County, replaced its superintendent every year between 2006 and 2011. Last year, the district had two superintendents resign in the same year, records show.
In McCurtain County, tiny Watson Public Schools has replaced its superintendent five times since 2006, including three times in 2010. In Holdenville, the district’s top administrator has been replaced six times, including three times in 2011 and twice in 2008.
Not just rural schools
And superintendents aren’t just fleeing small, rural school districts.
The state’s largest school district, Oklahoma City Public Schools, has replaced its superintendent four times since 2006, including twice in 2008.
“I think in any industry, in any profession, people want to be valued,” Glover said. “And at this point, our state is not valuing the good things education is doing. It doesn’t matter what size your district is. I think you’re seeing that with this exodus.”