“And who knows but what thou art come into the kingdom for such a time as this.” – Esther 4:14

In the life of a faith-based school, it is not uncommon to need an interim to temporarily fill the lead administrative position. One solution is the internal interim – someone from within the school who can stand in the gap until a new head of school is hired. Very little research exists as to the role and expectations of this key person. From the outside, it might seem like one merely steps up and takes over the running of a school in which they are already familiar. It is, in fact, more complex than just taking on a higher-level job. Both the internal interim and the school staff can benefit from an understanding of this position and its purpose. In this two-part article, we will examine the benefits and challenges of this transitional role as well as how a board and staff can support the interim.

The words of Mordecai in Esther 4:14 are often used to motivate those who find themselves in a challenging role they did not seek. Serving as an Interim Head of School requires the faith of Mordecai, the bravery of Esther, and a whole lot more. Becoming an interim necessitates a sudden job shift, followed by an equally suddenbeing thrust into making difficult decisions and solving complicated problems. When a school reaches the point where an interim is needed, it could be due to a health emergency or sudden death, an egregious act, a sudden resignation, or because things have reached a crisis point and drastic change is needed. If you are ever asked to serve as an interim or serve under one, knowing the realities of this bumpy road will make navigating the journey to an uncertain destination much smoother.

Reasons for Appointing an Interim

If a head of school needs to be replaced midyear, the typical options are to either shift the workload to other leaders for the remainder of the year or appoint an interim. The interim may be someone with experience from outside the organization, such as an educational consultant or a retired head of school. Another option is the selection of an internal interim: the temporary promotion of someone within the school leadership team. This choice maintains the most continuity and is the perspective of this article.

An internal interim provides the governing body with time to find the ideal person to serve as the next head of school because this process can take a year or two. It also allows a school to reset with someone who is known and has substantial experience. According to Ralph Wales, a three-time interim, “Choosing an interim head can be a highly strategic and transformative experience for schools” (Watchorn 2023). The interim will be expected to steer the school toward readiness for new direction and new leadership. Change is hard and makes people anxious; the interim can be a cushion and a comfort during transition. It may be necessary to make tough, unpopular decisions. Someone who has a relationship with the faculty and staff will likely be motivated to consider how to make changes in the kindest, gentlest way.

Goals for Serving as an Interim

An internal appointment likely occurs without advanced warning and involves someone in leadership who may have never anticipated being the head person. It is the educational equivalent of being catapulted into battle as the general. A passion for serving the Lord and families, a love for the school, and a desire to help in a time of need are probable motivations for agreeing to take the job. However, even someone who has been at the school for many years will likely have no idea what it is like to be fully in charge. The mantle of such responsibility is heavy and will upend the interim’s life. To be successful, the interim will need a solid relationship with the board, a shared vision for the school, and a good mentor outside the organization. Chuck Evans, a five-time Christian school interim headmaster, advises one to collaborate with the board and staff to set some achievable goals and keep everyone “swimming” in their assigned lanes (Evans 2019).

Reducing staff, refining policies, restricting spending, removing students – these are all tasks that may be necessary to ready a school for new leadership. The tricky thing is to also assure faculty and staff that the school is stable, and operations will continue in a consistent manner. This requires both whole group staff meetings where the interimone is as transparent as possible and individual conversations. In his article on interim headship, Katz observed, “It is less about relationships and more about outcomes” (2021). This approach would be a mistake, however, if one hopes to remain with the school after the interim job is done. It also grievously overlooks the biblical mandate to love others. Every leader knows that he/she may not always be liked or understood, but a good mentor who offers advice and accountability can help the interim execute hard decisions with care.

Part two of this article will address the ways to support school staff during an interim period and how the interim should transition out of the position once a new head of school is hired.

Reference List

Blanchard, K. & Hodges, P. (2003). The Servant Leader. Thomas Nelson.

Evans, C. (2019). What Exactly Does an Interim Headmaster Do? Covenant Christian Academy Blog. https://www.covenantchristian.net/blog/what-exactly-does-an-interim-headmaster-do 

Katz, J. (2021). The Virtues of an Interim Headship. (2021). RG175. https://rg175.com/blog/152 

Kristof-Brown, A. (2023). Interim leadership is overlooked. Here are 4 tips on doing it effectively. Higher Ed Dive. https://www.highereddive.com/news/interim-leadership-overlooked-4-tips/641250/ 

Watchorn, V. (2003). The Strategic Value of an Interim Head: A Conversation with Ralph Wells. SAIS. https://sais.org/resource/strategic-value-of-an-interim/ 

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

Dr. Renee L. Mungons has served at Emmanuel Christian School in Toledo, OH, for 38 years. She taught a variety of subjects in grades 4-12. Currently she is the Dean of Curriculum and Instruction for a student body of 517 students. For ten months in 2023, she served as her school’s Interim Head of school. Emmanuel has been accredited by the ACSI since 1992 and subscribed to Curriculum Trak since 2013. Dr. Mungons received her undergraduate degree in elementary education from Faith Baptist Bible College. She earned her master’s in education and Ph.D. at the University of Toledo where she majored in literacy and minored in educational technology. She has been an adjunct professor at Fairview Baptist Bible College in Jamaica where she taught research writing, and she also teaches graduate education courses online for Heidelberg University in Tiffin, OH. Renee welcomes your questions and comments; you may contact her at rmungons@ecstoledo.org.