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Add school superintendents to the list of jobs people are leaving in Pennsylvania and nationally

Brian Toth sitting at a desk wearing a Saint Marys Area School District shirt. He is now acting superintendent of the Millersburg Area School District in Dauphin County.
Anne Danahy
Brian Toth, who retired as superintendent of the Saint Marys Area School District, is now acting superintendent of the Millersburg Area School District in Dauphin County.

Add public school superintendents to the list of jobs facing an employee shortage.

Nearly 20% of Pennsylvania superintendents left their jobs last year. That number goes up to 25% at the national level, according to the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, in a trend that's expected to continue this year.

“It’s everything from the pandemic to the stress and strain on the position and the national politics that have come into our schools making the job even more difficult than it usually is," said Mark DiRocco, executive director of PASA and a former superintendent.

Head and shoulders shot of Mark DiRocco in a jacket and tie
Mark DiRocco is executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators

He said it’s not unusual to have 70 or 80 superintendents leave the job in a given year. But, it’s accelerated. In 2021, 97 of Pennsylvania's 500 superintendents left their position.

The numbers don't say whether all of those superintendents are retiring or some are switching to other jobs, but Dan Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association, told Newsweek that: "There's no doubt that we are seeing the greatest exodus of leadership at the district level that we have seen in this country."

Added to that, the number of students going into teacher programs in Pennsylvania is down significantly. According to PASA, enrollment in teacher preparation programs has dropped 67% in the past decade. And that means fewer teachers going on to become principals and superintendents.

“It’s more of a crisis than people realize. When it finally hits full force, people are going to look around and ask what happened," DiRocco said. "It’s kind of like the slow leak in a dam, and you don’t really notice the crack until it gives way.”

Brian Toth is acting superintendent at the Millersburg Area School District in northern Dauphin County. He started that position after retiring as a superintendent in another district for family reasons, with 38 years in education, including 18 as a superintendent.

“It is not a job for someone who can’t handle stress," Toth said. "It is not a job for someone who thinks it always has to be their way.”

Along with school boards that change with elections are new state regulations, increasing mandates, funding shortfalls and now COVID. That's enough to make some look at retiring early or switching jobs.

“And then the politics of what’s being taught in schools and micromanaging of how schools are operated is another reason to not become a superintendent and when you can, retire," Toth said.

Toth does think with the increasing demand for teachers, more people will go into education. But it could take a while to feel the effects.

DiRocco said that will require collective action.

“We have to collectively as a nation, a state and local communities, make education an admirable profession again," DiRocco said. "And we have to elevate it in the eyes of our young people so they want to aspire to be teachers and principals and counselors and superintendents. If we don’t do that we’re going to have major issues in educating the next generation of children.”

Anne Danahy has been a reporter at WPSU since fall 2017. Before crossing over to radio, she was a reporter at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, and she worked in communications at Penn State. She is married with cats.