SUPERINTENDENTS of big-city schools in the United States are under siege. Overworked, underfunded, and often personally attacked, many are giving up the battle to improve troubled schools by surrendering their jobs. Or they are being fired. The average tenure of urban school superintendents is now 2.5 years; in the late 1980s, it was five years. The situation ``signals a national crisis in urban education,'' says Samuel Husk, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools.
To keep their jobs, superintendents ``have to perform a miracle every morning,'' says Norman Gill, professor of political science at Marquette University. ``Everybody expects instant, magic solutions to what are generational problems.''
Many superintendents put in 16-hour days and must build coalitions among tenuous constituencies - school-board members, teachers unions, parents, business leaders, and community activists.
Often overwhelmed by the task, some superintendents opt for jobs overseeing smaller, more manageable, suburban school districts. Others take early retirement or leave the education field.
Despite salaries averaging more than $100,000 a year, many qualified people are unwilling even to consider the jobs.
In some cases, superintendents have become scapegoats when a community and district become embroiled in controversy.
Beginning today and continuing Friday and Monday, the Monitor will take readers to three cities - Houston, Milwaukee, and San Francisco - where incumbent superintendents are leaving their positions for a variety of reasons. In each city, school-board members, parents, teachers, principals, and superintendents will tell of the struggle involved in leading schools into the future. The series will conclude with a summary of recommended solutions.