The recent announcement that Michelle King will retire as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District by the end of the school year brought several months of uncertainty to a very sad end. A 33-year veteran of the district, King disclosed she was leaving the job to focus on treatment in the wake of a cancer diagnosis.

Adding urgency to the question, in recent weeks the superintendencies in New York City and Chicago, the largest and third-largest U.S. school districts respectively, have also been vacated. Superintendents have long been in short supply and veterans of large urban districts even more so.

All superintendents are called on to manage daunting challenges ranging from increasing academic achievement to managing elected board members and union leaders and other would-be adversaries to operating a large transportation system. But the issues top leaders of the very largest school districts must confront often seem virtually insurmountable.

The recent high-profile turnovers throw into relief the difficulty of identifying individuals capable of the array of skills the job requires — and of creating conditions where they can make the change they were hired to engineer.

One of the major compenents of success is a talented team and access to philanthropic support, says Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, which provides training, mentorship, and advocacy for would-be state and district education heads.

Struggling districts often lack top talent, and no superintendent can create change alone. Nor are state legislators and local taxpayers frequently willing to bankroll new superintendents’ ideas, and success breeds buy-in.

Read the full article about the hardships in education by Beth Hawkins at The 74.