Episode 145

How superintendents get to know their communities

September 4, 2019 | Leadership
Guest:Kirk Koennecke

Kirk Koennecke, the new superintendent for Indian Hill Schools near Cincinnati, Ohio, joins host Carole Dorn-Bell to discuss how superintendents get to know their communities when they’re new to the job.

Kirk brings a wealth of experience to the role, having served as a superintendent elsewhere, and offers advice on communication strategies for superintendents as well as potential pitfalls to avoid.

Kirk recommends that new superintendents focus on listening.

“I think, first and foremost, before you ever step foot in the new community and work with the new organization, you have to do a lot of homework,” Kirk says. “And then, of course, you have to immediately open your ears and close your mouth and be willing to do a lot of active listening so that you can learn as much as possible from every new person that you encounter—because they all have something to teach you about that culture.”

Kirk and Carole talk about how every community wants its culture to be valued. For superintendents, that means adapting to the district rather than trying to get the district to adapt to your leadership style.

“I don’t think that anybody really wants me to revisit or rehash what I went through in my prior district or organization,” Kirk says. “They want to make sure that the culture they’re in is valued the most. And that’s obviously something that’s very attractive when you do enter a new organization, you want to become a part of that culture.

Carole asks about meeting a school board’s goals, and how the superintendent job differs when there is a mandate for change versus a plan that is more to keep the status quo.

“The answers are already in the organization. Even if there are problems to fix or issues to address or you just want to sustain what’s going on that’s excellent, all the answers are already there and the people who are working there have those answers,” Kirk says. “You need to become part of that group and build relationships and rapport with everyone so you can glean that information. Change will happen over time and then you can be a part of it, and not just be a person telling others they need to change.”

Carole asks about the importance of trusting colleagues. Kirk says he’s fortunate to have great faculty and administrative staff, and that the Indian Hills leadership model is flat.

“As a superintendent, you have to give up control, and you have to trust your people to play to their strengths and do what they’re good at doing,” Kirk says. “What I’ve tried to do anywhere I’ve been new is show that trust right up front and let those people help teach me about the culture.”

Kirk says it is important to come in with a structured plan, and the vision of a district should guide your actions.

“Your job as a superintendent is to be a fearless cheerleader and public advocate for what your district is about,” Kirk says. “The vision and mission of your district really should guide your work and your behavior and your actions.”

Kirk cautions that anybody who takes on a leadership position has to know what they’re getting into. It requires a supportive family and can be lonely at times. It’s important to be protective of your time.

“Most of us want to spend time with our family when we’re not at work,” Kirk says. “There has to be some time where people know that I’m going to disconnect at this time.”

Finally, everything can be traced back to either poor or strong communication, he says.

“If you are not working on communications intentionally, routinely, consistently, either on your own or with a team of people, you should be,” Kirk says. “If it’s not one of your top priorities as a superintendent then you’re probably not in the right role today.”

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