We're looking for answers as to why the state's largest school district can't keep its leader and the revolving door of superintendents continue. In an exclusive interview, we're getting insight from a man who knows the position well and has nothing to gain or lose.
Four days a week, you'll find Karl Springer working with kids in a Dallas classroom. And he does it for free. If the name sounds familiar, that's because five years ago before he retired and moved to be closer to his grandkids, volunteer Karl Springer was once superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools.
“The thing that's really frustrating is Oklahoma City has had so many restarts,” said Karl Springer, former OKCPS Superintendent. “A new super comes in, whether the district wants to or not, there's a slight change in direction.”
Since 2000, OKC has had 13 different acting superintendents, contrast that with Dallas that's had five in the same time frame.
“If you were going to have a football team and you were going to have 12 head coaches in 18 years, you wouldn't have a quality football team, you couldn't,” he said. “You have to have stability in the leadership position.”
Springer stayed longer than most, five years. And while it's not unusual to have higher turnover in urban districts, Council of the Great City Schools reports one study found the average tenure is about three years. Springer says OKC can keep one longer.
Springer voiced his opinion about ideas floating around OKC, like splitting up the school district.
“To me dividing the district up into three smaller districts is like going back to 1971,” Springer said. “That's counter to where we want to go as a country. I think we're about inclusion.”
Instead, Springer has some advice of his own, like hire locally.
“Make sure they hire someone that's not using this as a stepping stone to go to Boston, or someplace else,” he said. “If you want to be super in OKC, you need to probably do it in the last 5-10 years of your career because it's a little like playing running back for the Dallas cowboys. You're going to get it from all sides and you need to be focused on what’s best for kids. You'll get hurt but you can't let anyone see that.”
He says OKC has more board members than any other district in the state. So, you have eight people to please.
“If the school board and superintendent aren't on same sheet of music you don't have a chance,” he added.
There will be disagreements but he has some advice for that.
“And not ever, ever go out and talk candidly about OKC schools,” Springer said.
He also says do what he's doing now and get back to the schools. The next superintendent needs to dedicate one to two days out of the week, he says, listening to the principals and the teachers.
News 9 told the school board and search committee Former Superintendent Karl Springer’s ideas. Here’s the statement we received:
“The OKCPS Board of Education is committed to finding a Superintendent who will bring to life the mission and vision of Oklahoma City Public Schools. Over the past few weeks, the Board has taken several important steps to move forward with naming our next leader. In early February, the Board appointed a 4-member committee to work with the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA), the firm hired to facilitate the executive recruiting process as well as our community engagement strategy. As part of that, in addition to addressing board governance, the full Board will leverage the next few weeks to gather feedback from community members and connect with key stakeholders to garner input. As we work to identify the District’s next Superintendent, the Board feels it is vital that we fully understand the current and future needs of OKCPS students, families, and staff.” -Paula Lewis, Chair, OKCPS Board of Education