When you read the position description for a local superintendent of schools, you realize how complex, varied, and sensitively responsible this position has become. How to prepare school leaders has become an intensely challenging and demanding assignment.
Here in Austin, an innovative (possibly unique) program to prepare competent professionals for superintendency level administrative posts is in its fourth 23 -month long cycle. The Cooperative Superintendency Program is jointly sponsored by the Texas State Department of Education (known as the Texas Education Agency) , the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Texas at Austin, and a statewide advisory board of local superintendents of schools.
Its purpose is to counter and replace what some have seen as the bitter day-by-day, on-the-job learning experience in which administrators must cope simultaneously with crisis after crisis, community and parental pressures, and conflicting legal interpretations.
The solution: a developmental experience comprising an adequate combination of practical training and educational theory without the pressures of day-to-day survival.
Back in 1975, professor Larry D. Haskew, at the University of Texas, suggested combining the resources and facilities of the graduate school and the state Department of Education to provide a 23-month preparatory experience for interested professionals who had demonstrated potential for front-line leadership for the state's 1,100 local school districts. The then state commissioner of education embraced the idea, and it's continuing under the present commissioner, Ramon L. Bynum.
The commissioner agreed to employ the selectees throughout the various departments, hence adding exceptionally talented people with a variety of proven expertise to the department's overall operations.
These superintendency fellows (as they became known) were then exposed firsthand to such problems as finance procedures, school and teacher accreditation, curriculum development, planning and research, significance of public relations, professional practices, and federal-state-local working relationships.
Each superintendency fellow, on a carefully planned basis, was released to actively pursue and complete the doctoral program in education administration at the university. Hence, the combination of practice and theory, two years of work at the central level, and an earned doctorate were the rewards of the program.
Victor Rodriguez, recently elected superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District, is a graduate of the 1978-1981 cycle. He says of the program, ''The fellows are provided opportunities to polish and sharpen skills, to seek out answers to day-to-day administrative concerns, to be exposed to the broad range of educational concepts and philosophies, and to relate theory to practice in the real world of educational administration.''
The program is especially demanding, somewhat like holding down two jobs. But Dr. Rodriguez claims, ''Given the opportunity to participate, and now being cognizant of its extensive demands and requirements, I would gladly do it all over again.''
Nominations come from throughout the state from those qualified for the doctoral program in educational administration at the University of Texas. Last year 161 were nominated; 20 became finalists.
A two-day appraisal seminar was held with the finalists participating in a series of evaluative procedures in the presence of professors, state agency leadership, advisory council members, and selected local board of education members.