A lack of available school administrators means public schools should consider looking outside public education to fill some leadership positions, the state’s education commissioner says.

During an interview following a committee meeting at the Capitol last week, Dr. Tom Kimbrell said school districts should consider hiring proven, outside leaders – entrepreneurs, engineers, plant managers, etc. – as principals and superintendents.

He suggested that some districts – perhaps larger ones such as the Little Rock School District – could be successful with leaders trained in finance and management who could delegate certain academics-related duties to others.

“I guess the question is, is the only avenue to become an educational leader the old avenue of, ‘I teach for so many years, and then I go to a college or university program’?” he said.

Kimbrell said that the additional responsibilities of school administrators make it harder to find educators willing to leave the classroom to take the jobs. Many teachers are effective and making decent money in their current positions.

The problem is especially acute in certain parts of the state, where the Department of Education sometimes must rely on teachers who serve only reluctantly as administrators simply to save the school, he said. In some cases, perhaps an inspired business leader could take that job.

“I’m sitting here looking at some of these school districts that we have had to take over, and when I start asking who will go help me, who will go be the superintendent in school district A, I can’t find any takers,” he said.

Kimbrell said that the Department of Education will not file any bills to create alternative paths to school leadership this session, but he is trying to start a dialogue. He said some in public education have questioned the idea.

“There’s a little pushback, particularly from colleges and universities, and a little pushback from current leadership in schools, but I think we just have to have the conversation about it,” he said.

Dr. Richard Abernathy, executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, said his group would participate in that conversation.

“We have been saying for years that more and more pressure has been placed upon administrators so that it has become hard to recruit for those positions,” he said. “When good teachers look at what they make in the classroom compared to the additional pressure of administrators with their compensation, they choose to stay in the classroom. I see this as a problem, but it isn’t new and has been coming for years.”

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Steve Brawner

Steve Brawner

Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist and contributor to Talk Business & Politics. He is also a syndicated columnist in 10 Arkansas newspapers. You can email him at brawnersteve@mac.com or follow him on Twitter: @SteveBrawner.