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The School Superintendent as Public Administrator

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Joseph Jarret
May 3, 2024


Recently, I conducted an informal survey of 50 graduate students who are pursuing a master’s degree in public administration. I asked the students to record what comes to mind when they hear the term “public administrator.” As you would imagine, responses came in the form of “city or county managers,” “department heads,” “bureaucrats,” etc. Not a single student made mention of the people who serve in the nearly 14,000 public school districts in the United States. This is interesting when you consider the fact that school administrators play a critical role in improving the learning environment and overall academic progress of their students, not to mention, performing duties not unlike their counterparts in all levels of government.

The School Superintendent

In most United States school districts, the local school board develops districtwide goals. It is their responsibility to provide the overall leadership that maintains the direction in which the larger team plans for student success. Arguably, the most important decision a school board makes is the hiring of the superintendent. While the board oversees policy making, it is the superintendent who is responsible for actually making the district run smoothly while ensuring the board’s policies are being implemented. Along with policy implementation, the school superintendent is responsible for:

  • Administration;
  • Recommendation and evaluation of staff, including teach tenure, discipline and termination;
  • Preparing the district budget;
  • Facilities maintenance;
  • Communicating with the board, employees, parents, students and the general public.

A more thorough analysis of the above duties and responsibilities follows:

Policy Development and Implementation

The superintendent keeps the school board informed about needed policies. That information comes from various sources, including but not limited to fellow administrators, school and community leadership teams and committees and legislators. Upon board acceptance of the superintendent’s recommendation, he or she develops and carries out the logistics of implementing the new policy.


The superintendent is the lead administrator and manager of all district operations. Such operations may include new school construction, directing educational programming, designing curricula and overseeing record-keeping.

Recommendation and Evaluation of Staff

The superintendent makes the official recommendations for staff to be hired. He or she completes and files district staff evaluations, and also recommends the renewal, nonrenewal and dismissal of staff (following requirements of federal, state and district policy).


The superintendent develops a budget and presents it to the board for approval. Once approved, the superintendent presents the budget to the funding body for approval and appropriation of the necessary funding. The superintendent may also meet with the budget team to make revisions as necessary. Once the budget is approved and funded, the superintendent oversees its implementation.

Facilities Maintenance

The superintendent is in charge of leading the discussions, plans, communication and presentation of information regarding the maintenance and management of and improvements to all district buildings and facilities.


The superintendent is ultimately responsible for communication with any individuals and groups involved in the school district. This includes political leaders, state and local education association officers, State Department of Education staff, employees, parents, board members, principals, teachers, business owners and the media.

A Matter of Ethics

School administrators, like their counterparts in other branches of public service, abide by a code of ethics. The ethics model published by the American Association of School Administrators reads that educational leaders should subscribe to the following statements of standards.

The Educational Leader:

  1. Makes the education and well-being of students the fundamental value of all decision making.
  2. Fulfills all professional duties with honesty and integrity and always acts in a trustworthy and responsible manner.
  3. Supports the principle of due process and protects the civil and human rights of all individuals.
  4. Implements local, state and national laws.
  5. Advises the school board and implements the board’s policies and administrative rules and regulations.
  6. Pursues appropriate measures to correct those laws, policies and regulations that are not consistent with sound educational goals or that are not in the best interest of children.
  7. Avoids using his/her position for personal gain through political, social, religious, economic or other influences.
  8. Accepts academic degrees or professional certification only from accredited institutions.
  9. Maintains the standards and seeks to improve the effectiveness of the profession through research and continuing professional development.
  10. Honors all contracts until fulfillment, release or dissolution mutually agreed upon by all parties.
  11. Accepts responsibility and accountability for one’s own actions and behaviors.
  12. Commits to serving others above self.


Educational administrators, whether operating in elementary and secondary schools or postsecondary education institutions, play a crucial role in shaping the educational landscape. Their multifaceted responsibilities, encompassing leadership, decision-making and the development of effective educational programs, contribute significantly to the overall success of educational institutions and the academic achievements of students.

Author: Dr. Joseph G. Jarret is a public sector manager, former school board attorney, and mediator who has served several state and local governmental entities in Florida and Tennessee. A former United States Army Armored Cavalry Office with service overseas, he lectures on behalf of the Master of Public Policy and Administration program in the Department of Political Science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He holds the B.S. in Criminal Justice, a Masters in Public Administration, a Juris Doctorate, and the Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from the University of Tennessee.

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