IN the end, there was no buyout, no news conference and no messy public feud. Karl Springer's announcement Monday night that he would retire after five years as superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools was strikingly low key.
It came near the beginning of the school board's twice-monthly meeting, which then lasted more than four hours. Not quite four months ago, Springer accepted a three-year contract. “Now is the time for me to retire and begin the next chapter of my life,” he said. Springer will leave the district at the end of August.
Springer has been the longest-serving superintendent in recent memory, in a district that has a history of short-lived leadership. Marvin Crawford served as superintendent from 1995 to 2000, when school board members bought out his contract. Between 2000 and Springer's hiring in 2008, the district went through seven permanent or interim superintendents. The only superintendent in the past three decades to serve longer than Springer was Arthur Stellar, who worked from 1985 to 1992 and left amid controversy.
Springer listed a variety of accomplishments achieved under his leadership, including the district's continuous learning calendar. School board Chairwoman Lynne Hardin noted the stability Springer brought to the district — the very characteristic school and community leaders sought in 2008 when they went looking for a new superintendent. On that note, Springer was a resounding success. He deserves the community's thanks for sticking with a job that is among the most difficult in the city.
The implementation of a new school calendar is notable. So is the relative stability of the district's financial audits. His legacy in improving the school district's student achievement is less clear, as some schools have improved while others still struggle to provide students fundamental math and reading skills. Success stories have often been matched with heartbreaking news of academic disappointments.
What now? The school board's plans for choosing Springer's successor weren't immediately clear. The timing isn't great. School starts Aug. 5. With Springer's departure scheduled for just weeks later, district educators will prepare for a new school year uncertain of who will be calling the shots in a few short months.
Now is not a good time for leadership limbo, but neither should the board rush a decision. In the five years since Oklahoma City searched for a superintendent, much has changed. Schools are facing tight financial times even as the academic and social support demands on schools increase. The implementation of common core standards is a real challenge for schools, one that dovetails with new and stronger evaluations for principals and teachers. It's a tough time to be a superintendent in any district, let alone an urban district.
Times of challenge bring great opportunity. Sure, that statement is trite. But it's also true. School board members — including two new regular members and a new board chair — are asking more questions of district administrators as of late. They've stated that they aren't interested in acting as a rubber stamp.
The school board has no more important job than hiring a superintendent. If this growing, dynamic city has a weak spot, it's a public education system many families opt out of. Springer worked hard for five years to make improvements. His successor must continue to push to make sure the children of this community — especially those who can't opt out — have the education they need and deserve, so they can look to a future filled with hope and opportunity.