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This article first appeared in the spring 2024 issue of TASA’s INSIGHT.

School district superintendents often describe their job as “lonely,” and it makes sense. A superintendent is an island in a way. No one else in his or her district shares the job title or the specific tasks and responsibilities. So when they have a question, a concern, or just want to bounce an idea off of somehow, who do they call? TASA’s executive superintendents!

How TASA’s Executive Superintendent Program Began

Kevin Brown has been executive director of TASA since 2018, but before that, he served as superintendent of Alamo Heights ISD while serving TASA in several leadership positions. As chair of the TASA 2025 Task Force, he helped build the association’s strategic framework. While reaching out to members to see how TASA could better serve them, Brown says he fielded a lot of requests for more support at the regional level. His plan? To hire expert, recently retired superintendents to serve as a resource for TASA members.

Under Brown’s leadership in 2021, TASA revamped the former member representative program, moving from member representatives who helped connect members with TASA services to a team of executive superintendents dedicated to supporting members in whatever ways they might need. This move included expanding the group, from three original representatives to a team of 11 executive superintendents, each assigned to one or two regions to support superintendents in those areas.

In choosing executive superintendents, TASA looks at several factors. “For executive superintendents, we want people who were very successful superintendents themselves,” Brown says. “We look for someone who is well-known and well-respected in our profession, and who has been a pretty highly engaged TASA member so that they’re familiar with our different services.”

When to Call an Executive Superintendent

From questions on day-to-day operations to advice on crisis situations, TASA’s executive superintendents are ready to help. Above all, they are mentors, prepared to listen with empathy and share their own experiences, confidentially.

Sherri Bays, who serves as executive superintendent for regions 18 and 20, says most of the questions she fields have to do with operations or board governance issues, but she’s ready to discuss any topic, and if she doesn’t know the answer, she’ll find it.

In one instance, a superintendent reached out while going through a level-three grievance with their school board. While their attorneys had a script the superintendent could use, they were looking for insight from someone who might have been in the same situation before.

“I share my experiences,” Bays says. “And at times I’ll share things that I think I should have done differently, and what I learned from the experience.”

Another time, a new superintendent told Bays they had forgotten to post their board agenda before a meeting and were wondering if they could go ahead and hold the meeting. Bays was able to tell them that they needed to cancel and reschedule.

She’s received calls on numerous topics, from superintendents looking to learn more about districts of innovation or wondering if they should switch to a four-day week, to considering the pros and cons of closing for the 2024 solar eclipse or starting up an education foundation. Some superintendents reach out for personal career advice, as well, from moving districts to negotiating salary changes.

“There are no dumb questions,” Bays says. “If it’s something you’re struggling with, or if you’re in the middle of something and it’s not at your fingertips, I tell my superintendents to just call me and if I can help, I will.”

Bays says most of the calls she receives are from newer superintendents, and she can remember that feeling of being new to the position and overwhelmed at times. “I felt that way the first couple of years,” she says. “Even when you’re at a service center meeting, you don’t necessarily want to ask a question in front of a bunch of other superintendents.”

While TASA’s executive superintendents are especially handy mentors to new superintendents, the program can also be helpful to veteran administrators. “Even experienced superintendents can run into a crisis or have a simple question that needs to be asked,” Brown says. “The executive superintendents are also a conduit between TASA and our members, so you don’t always have to call us or come to Austin. You have someone locally who can be helpful, too.”

Ask a TASA Executive Superintendent for Help or Guidance When You Need It

Making that first call to an executive superintendent isn’t the easiest thing for district leaders. But those who’ve taken the leap say it’s paid off by helping them build an invaluable relationship with a trusted mentor who’s walked in their shoes. Todd Deaver has served as superintendent in Stockdale ISD since 2022. He met Bays while attending TASA’s First-Time Superintendents Academy and now calls her up whenever he has a question that needs a sensitive, experienced ear.

“Who better to trust than someone who has been in the exact same position you’re in?” Deaver asks. “Region 20 and TASA are not hiring people who were unsuccessful in the superintendency. These are people who were successful and retired in that success. That’s who you absolutely ought to be trusting.”

Deaver has built a strong relationship with his executive superintendent, and he feels comfortable giving Bays a call with any questions he has, knowing that she will always answer or get back to him quickly, ready to listen and help however she can.

“I can put in a call to TASA’s [legal assistance program] and they will give me the letter of the law,” Deaver says. “I can call my law firm, but if we’re past our retainer fee, that’s going to be a charge for the school. The executive superintendent is a person you can reach out to and get real-world advice.”

As a former superintendent, Brown understands the hesitancy many might have about making that first phone call to an executive superintendent. But he hopes many more will reach out so they can experience the level of support that many, like Deaver, already have.

“The very best superintendents get support,” Brown says. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all need that kind of support, and I think that’s one of the best things we do at TASA — building this community of support for our important leaders. That’s what this program is aimed at doing.”

Reflecting on his own experience with the program, Deaver agrees. “You have to trust someone,” Deaver says. “You cannot go this alone.”