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In Leaders We Trust

Andrés Alonso shares his views on what it really takes to be superintendent
Professor Andres Alonso

After six years as superintendent of the Baltimore City Public Schools and more than 20 years working in education, Andrés Alonso is well positioned to share what he’s learned along the way.

In this Usable Knowledge EdCast, Alonso — a professor of practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Education — delves into the key qualities superintendents should possess, the greatest challenges of leading a school district, and what he plans to share as part of his upcoming Leadership Institute for Superintendents and District Leaders in March.

Acknowledging that the match between a district and a superintendent “matters tremendously,” Alonso adds that “regardless of the type of district, there are a set of qualities or skills and competencies that should be consistent, based on the nature of the job.”

All superintendents, Alonso says, are faced with:

  • An extraordinarily political and politicized job
  • High expectations around performance for all students
  • Myriad challenges around sustainability and the capacity to move quickly
  • The ability to lead change and innovation, as well as lead instruction
  • The development of an effective team
  • Managing resources efficiently
  • Managing themselves
  • Building key relationships inside and outside of schools

“They have to be managers and people who inspire others, so [there are] an extraordinary array of skills and competencies in the job,” says Alonso, with the caveat that no one person can do it all.

“In every profession, whether it is directing movies or being a principal in a school, it’s hard to get people who are good at everything,” he says. “That’s why one of the qualities that superintendents need is the quality to develop teams and to be able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of people in the organization and complement their own areas of need with the strength of others.”

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