Career Path to Superintendent of Kankakee School District
Dr. Genevra A. Walters is superintendent of Kankakee School District where she and her children were reared. Kankakee is located 60 miles south of Chicago, Illinois. With an enrollment of approximately 5,500 PreK-12th grade students, Kankakee School District serves students in the City of Kankakee, the Village of Aroma Park and the rural areas east and south of the city. An excerpt of the interview with Walters follows:
What career path led to your profession of superintendent?
I enrolled in the School of Education at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC). I wanted to major in secondary education with a focus on English. My goal was to become a teacher in order to ultimately be a guidance counselor. I was told by an administrator that this was the route that needed to be taken. While at UIC, I found out about School Social Work and switched to the School of Social Work.
I became a School Social worker in the Kankakee School District because I felt that I could assist in minimizing barriers to education for underprivileged children through family and community connections. I eventually became an assistant principal of Kankakee High School and a principal of a local elementary school. After a year as an elementary principal, I was recruited to work in a Special Education District (SPEED School District #802) as the director of Human Resources. I worked in this position for six years before being appointed the executive director of SPEED. As a part of my contract, the position was changed to the title “Superintendent.” My request was based on the perception that the education of students with disabilities was significantly different when developing educational systems for improving student outcomes. After six years, I was appointed superintendent of Kankakee School District #111 where I am currently serving as the educational leader.
What educational background and/or professional training are essential for this profession?
I believe that a strong superintendent needs to understand policies, procedures and systems that lead to increased student achievement. I feel that the person has to have strong problem-solving skills and understand how to develop talent within the school in the areas of finance, personnel and curriculum. There may be multiple routes to the superintendency, but within these routes there are qualities that the person must possess such as: vision of excellence for student performance; driven to maximize results; strong skills in organizational management and a passion and will to achieve success for students.
What influenced you to pursue a career in your profession?
My first memory of having the intense desire to help was when I was in first grade. My sister, Joya, who is mildly disabled struggled with learning to read. My mother struggled with teaching her. I felt compassion for Joya and decided to do her homework. This was my 5/6 year old way of helping. Joya’s teacher came down to my classroom and told me, “Don’t you ever do Joya’s homework again.”
Later, in high school, I remember talking to fellow students who had dreams of having careers that did not match the classes they were taking or the grades they were getting. My desire to help students who struggled in school grew throughout my childhood.
What professional, civic or community organization do you belong?
Some of my affiliations include: Superintendents’ Commission for the Study of Demographics and Diversity; Illinois Association of School Administrators; American Association of School Administrators; National Association of Black School Educators; Council for Exceptional Children; Kiwanis and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
What advice do you give to students who desire to pursue a career as a superintendent?
A student that knows he/she would like to pursue a position as a superintendent should pursue a career in education. The most direct route to take would be to pursue a bachelor’s degree in education, a Master’s degree in educational leadership/administration and ideally a doctorate in education.
However, there are nontraditional routes such as careers in education that are service providers (school social worker, school psychologist, guidance counselors and speech pathologists). There are also superintendents that took the route of business managers. These nontraditional routes all require Master’s degrees in the field prior to employment in a school district.
Most superintendents move into administrative positions within the school system prior to employment as a superintendent. These positions may include principal, business managers, curriculum directors, personnel directors and occasionally director of student support services or special education.
After the student enters employment in whatever path is chosen, it is important to learn not only their chosen career, but also how a school district functions. Eventually, the person needs to begin to take a more global perspective of the school system. To be an effective administrator and ultimately a school superintendent, it is important to understand the many roles and responsibilities of the employees within the district. The responsibilities are usually divided into three big areas: instruction, business/finance and personnel. However, they are all interconnected and cannot operate effectively in isolation.
The student also needs to understand the school as a social system and how the school interacts within the community, with families and within the local, state/national political climate. It is very common for an employee of a school to take a very narrow view of the school system and only look at the system from their personnel perspective. In order to be an effective superintendent, you have to know the multiple perspectives, understand them and create a fluid system that considers the views of all internal and external stakeholders.
Dr. Ronald Holmes is the author of 11 books: “Jacob’s Dream! A Lesson on Alphabets and Continents,” “How to Eradicate Bullying,” “Education Questions to be Answered,” “Current Issues and Answers in Education,” “How to Eradicate Hazing,” “Professional Career Paths,” “Your Answers to Education Questions,” “How to revitalize the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.” “Completing the Dissertation: Tips, techniques and real-life experiences from Ph.D. graduates.” “Jacob’s Dream, A Story of Careers for Children” and Jacob’s Dream, A Story of Animals in Africa. He is publisher of “The Holmes Education Post,” an education focused Internet newspaper. Holmes is a former teacher, school administrator and district superintendent. He can be reached at [email protected]