Increased accountability standards required by the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act have put a growing focus on these turnaround artists, education experts say.
Some aren't concerned because they see hiring such superstars as a stop-gap measure while compensation and skill requirements adjust to new expectations for school leadership.
Others say it is forcing school boards to pay high premiums for short-lived tenures – and gains. "To come in and ask for that kind of money knowing they won't last more than a year and a half, it's nothing but a big scam – almost racketeering," says John Trotter, head of the Metro Association of Classroom Educators, a for-profit Georgia teachers union.
The pipeline is drying up even as the number of US school districts, because of consolidation, has dropped from 35,000 in 1965 to 13,000 today. Some 20 percent of school districts are actively looking for a superintendent, according to the American Association of School Administrators (AASA).
That's because principals and central office staff who would typically fill the superintendent job say accountability standards and politicized school boards mean it's not worth the hassle.
Minority districts that want to hire a black or Hispanic superintendent are in even worse straits: The number of educators coming out of black colleges has dropped by 70 percent in the past 20 years, according to the National Association of Black Educators in Washington.