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Montana school districts struggling to find new superintendents amid national shortage

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Posted at 6:11 PM, Mar 28, 2023

BILLINGS - It’s often the most rewarding jobs that are the most demanding, and this is true when it comes to school district superintendents, especially over the last few years.

There’s currently a nationwide superintendent shortage, according to the American Association of School Administrators, and Montana has more than a dozen superintendent positions open statewide.

Among the reasons why: Explosive protests and contentious school board meetings, which have made the last few years challenging for school superintendents across the country.

“We saw just an explosion of emotion, right? The masking, no masking, vaccination, no vaccination, sex education, curriculum, critical race theory, all of the above,” said Billings Public Schools Superintendent Greg Upham.

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These are just a few of the factors behind the national school superintendent shortage, and the numbers are shocking.

According to the American Association of School Administrators, 25% of superintendents nationwide resigned in 2021.

“The job just is a lot more complex and difficult than it used to be. So people are not necessarily choosing to go into the superintendent's role,” said Dave Wick, Columbia Falls Public Schools superintendent and president of the Montana Association of School Superintendents.

Wick said 16 positions are currently open in Montana.

“Our superintendents are aging. Some of us are retiring after many years in the field,” Wick said.

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Dave Wick

Both Wick and Upham will be retiring this year after decades in the school system. Finding replacements hasn’t been easy.

“What I’m really concerned about... is less people going into the education profession in the classroom. We have fewer students in our university systems that are in education right now,” said Upham.

Fewer educators mean a smaller pool of superintendents to choose from.

“Low pay has something to do with it. The cost of living is higher than the salary we’re offering,” Wick said.

Despite that, both men are optimistic, trusting that qualified educators will step forward at a time when they’re needed more than ever.

“I have hope. Do I have concerns? I have more concerns about people not going into the field of education. But I have more hope that we’ll play our cards right. It’s a great profession. It’s a great living. It’s a powerful profession,” said Upham.