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School superintendents face added pressure

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Associated Press / January 14, 2008

PROVIDENCE - The state's schools are facing fiscal pressures and the need for students to score higher at a time when many superintendents have been on the job for only a few years.

Almost two-thirds of Rhode Island's 35 school superintendents have held their current jobs less than three years. Eighty percent have been at the top for less than five.

Just three of the state's superintendents have been in their current job for a decade or more.

Officials say the changes can be disruptive. They say that by the time some superintendents have learned the job and begun to understand the district, they've already decided to move on to something else.

"It's tremendously traumatic for a school district to change superintendents every three or four years, because basically the district has to refigure out who this new person is and whether they share the vision of the prior person, which is usually unlikely," John L. Pini, director of the Rhode Island School Superintendents' Association, told the Providence Journal.

Of the six superintendents who came on board this school year, two - Georgia Fortunato in Lincoln, and Kenneth Sheehan in West Warwick - are at least familiar with Rhode Island's unique educational and political culture.

The other four first-timers have held jobs in other states and are new to Rhode Island this school year.

Rhode Island mirrors a national trend.

Being a school superintendent is getting more demanding. Many educators are opting to become superintendents later in their careers and then move on sooner than in the past, despite salaries of as much as $100,000 or more.

The lack of job security is also a source of anxiety.

Although they have individual contracts, superintendents are appointed by school committees.

The members of those committees can change every two years - and new members often have their own ideas about how best to run a local school system.

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