Capital Project Planning

In December 2015, the Springville-Griffith community voted down a proposed capital project 81% to 19%. At that time the SGI BOE Members wisely conducted a survey of our voters to gather feedback.

One of the goals set forth for me upon entering the superintendency at SGI was to study the project as it was developed along with the feedback from the survey. What we heard overwhelmingly and repeatedly is that our voters would support a project that addresses the necessities of caring for our facilities and grounds, without any controversial “extras”.

Given that there are critical needs that must be addressed soon, like the rooftop at SES, I’m prepared to present a proposed scope of project to the SGI BOE members on Tuesday, July 5, at their regular BOE meeting. This will not be a brand new project but instead takes the project developed in December and reduces it to the necessities–those items that we need to do to take of the place.

We’ll also take a look at the financial implications of the newly proposed scope–what will it cost our taxpayers?

The BOE will be asked to give feedback on the proposed project and I will hope to have a project ready for BOE approval on Monday, August 8 with a late September vote. This timeline is to keep us moving forward so that we can benefit from a favorable bid time table.

In between the July 5 and August 8 BOE meetings, I will meet with any interested school community members. I would love to hear your feedback as we develop the project for BOE approval. If interested, please join me in the HS Library on Tuesday, July 19, 2016 at 6:00 pm. Community members may also contact me via phone, I’m at 592-3230 or email at kmoritz@springvillegi.org.

Over the next week I will be writing a post for each of our school buildings in which I illustrate what’s in the project now and what we took out. There will be a few new items too–when we consider it’s likely to be 18 months to two years from BOE adoption of a project to the start of construction, we have to plan to include everything that will need to be taken care of–otherwise items like that SES rooftop have to be repaired within the regular budget without the 79.3% reimbursement from NYS we can count on within a project. And yes, I understand that the reimbursement dollars are ALSO our tax dollars but it’s much less of a financial impact to the school district than an entire rooftop covered with local taxpayer dollars.

Hope for Public Education

I’m hopeful about public education. As educators, we are a group of adults who hold our students first and foremost in our hearts and minds. We think about their stories. We worry about basic needs being met for some of them and we agonize over the decisions we see some of our older students making. We listen to them and we try to guide them.  Sometimes we just listen. We take an interest in what they think and for some, we’re the only ones who do so.  We advocate for them when they are in danger. We celebrate their many successes. We support their fundraisers and cheer them on in athletic, musical, and dramatic events. We pull for them in every competition. For some of us, we pray for them. I love them and expect the best of them, always.

While the noise continues in print and visual media, on social media, and in countless opinions espoused everywhere someone wants to air a complaint–as educators we continue to do what we’ve always done. We head to our schools with a joy about learning and a love for the children we serve.

None of the pressures from outside of our school buildings can detract from these simple facts about us. The governor doesn’t change this about us. The federal government doesn’t change that about us. The anti common core cries, the privatization of school advocates, the crazy people who don’t know US but judge us anyway, and the challenges we face together don’t change the simple facts about us.

We are and always have been well intended, caring adults who do this work because we love our students and we endeavor to make a difference in every life that we touch. When my children stand at my funeral some day, I want them to hear the stories of students I influenced, teachers who entered leadership roles and administration because of my example, and colleagues who remember me as someone who supported and respected them. I want my two kids to hear that my expectations for excellence in myself and those who work here encouraged someone to be better, work harder, go farther. I want them to hear that I made a difference in Randolph, that I improved the quality of the education our children receive through my leadership actions.

These are the reasons we are educators. None of the criticism and noise and political agendas will ever affect those reasons. They’re simply challenges for us to overcome together. I’m hopeful about public education.

FAPE. Free Appropriate Public Education for ALL students. The single greatest accomplishment of our great nation. Amidst the noise, don’t you forget it.

 

No Snow Day Here

I’ve posted about snow days before here and here and here, –it seems like every winter! In those posts I’ve explained about the multiple factors that influence my decision, thanked our incredible bus drivers and plow truck drivers, and lamented over a bad call.

We stayed open today, while many schools closed, because I can’t in good conscience close because of the hype and fervor of the newscasters. Watching Andy Parker’s (because he is good at presenting the facts without as much of the hype) forecast closely this morning, it looks like a strong possibility that the lake effect snow will miss us. As much fun as I know a snow day may be for the majority of our students and employees, I can’t cancel school without good reason. The sun is shining here on the hill right now! And yet as I write this I worry that the snow will hit us at dismissal time–that’s the nature of lake effect snow in WNY!

A couple of our students just told me that it “would be all right with us if you want to send us home early”. I wouldn’t likely ever do an unplanned early dismissal for the same reasons I don’t close school unless it looks to be absolutely necessary. Working parents, businesses who need their employees to show up, employees who don’t want to use a personal day because they don’t have child care lined up when they get a call at 6:30 am, children who would be home alone because the parent has to go to work and they have no other option—these factors all make it a very serious decision to close for the day. Early dismissal could result in little ones arriving at houses with no adult home yet. Most important to me personally? I want our students here in school, learning!

I won’t ever sacrifice the safety of our students for those reasons, but I’ll be very careful and thoughtful about any decision to close. Which brings me to another point!

We have a new door to door plan in place for those days when it’s very cold so that we don’t have to cancel like we did last year. Many students already have a bus stop directly in front of their home every day. For those students who walk the quarter mile to school or a bus stop–our drivers will stop at every house on the route when I call to say “the Cold Weather Plan” is in effect. The National Weather Service guidelines show that sustained exposure of 30 minutes at -18 to -41 is the average temperature that may result in frost bite. With door to door pick up in those temperatures, we should have no reason to close just for cold weather. If we implement the Cold Weather Plan, families will receive a phone call just like they do for a snow day.

Thanks to everyone who works hard to help us prepare and transport our students safely!

An Encouraging Leadership

In its simplest form, a leader is defined as a person who guides or directs a group.  It’s my responsibility to “guide and direct” the employees of our district, most notably the administrative team, along with everyone else who works here. Of course if all I’m ever doing is “guiding and directing”, I’m not sure that’s good enough. We need to inspire students and teachers and all employees to want to be the very best that they can be and I’ve got to get better at the positive end of the role.

The other day I saw an example of natural leadership that struck me in a way that left me thinking the entire way home from school and into the evening. One of our teachers, Caitlin, approached another, Brooke, with great excitement because she wanted to tell her colleague about some event in which she would be running. Brooke responded with positive praise (something I continue to work on remembering to give) and genuine enthusiasm for Caitlin’s efforts. The natural leadership comes into play because Caitlin wanted to share her story, she knew she would receive further encouragement, and she was proud of her accomplishment. If Brooke didn’t have credibility as a leader, friend, colleague, and RUNNER, I’m doubting that Caitlin would have bothered to tell her. I noticed all of this in the three seconds it took me to walk by the two of them.

I need to work on this–our teachers and administrators don’t come to see me to tell me about something they’ve worked hard to implement or to execute. Is it because they don’t receive appropriate encouragement and positive praise from me? Is it because they think I don’t care or that I won’t think it’s good enough?

In this new year I’m going to seek ways in which I can positively encourage our administrators and teachers.  I can be very hard on people, always pushing them to be their best. (Just ask my two kids.) But do I ENCOURAGE them to do so?

School Superintendents: Vital or Irrelevant?

The Brown Center on Education Policy published this report School Superintendents: Vital or Irrelevant? in September, 2014.  I read the report with great interest, largely because it’s my fervent intent to leave this world some day having made a significant difference with my life. As a school superintendent, my primary and most important responsibilities are to support and improve our educational program.

As a public school system, our central mission, or reason for being, is to educate the 953 children who reside within the Randolph Central School District. Every part of our operation from finance to cafeteria to bus drivers to support staff to teachers and administrators function because we must educate our children. That includes me.

The report looks at administrative data from the states of Florida and North Carolina for the school years 2000-01 to 2009-10. The researchers examine the following questions:

1. What are the observable characteristics
of superintendents, with a focus on their
length of service?
2. Does student achievement improve when
superintendents serve longer?
3. Do school districts improve when they hire
a new superintendent?
4. What is the contribution of superintendents
to student achievement relative to districts,
schools, and teachers?
5. Are there superintendents whose tenure
is associated with exceptional changes in
student achievement?

At Randolph, we have made tremendous gains in student achievement over the past three years. If someone asks me how we did it, I can answer that question with considerable depth. As the leader of our school district, I have a part in that growth for having worked with all constituencies to set the course, the focus, the financial priorities, and the expectations that our school community has embraced. Absolutely indisputably, I KNOW that no one within the system is more important to the growth of a child in school than the teacher who stands with him every day. I also know that a leadership team can make a considerable difference for that child through their actions and the continuous improvement that we expect of ourselves and every other member of our school community.

The authors at the Brown Center found the following:

1. School district superintendent is largely a
short-term job. The typical superintendent
has been in the job for three to four years.
2. Student achievement does not improve
with longevity of superintendent service
within their districts.
3. Hiring a new superintendent is not
associated with higher student
achievement.
4. Superintendents account for a small
fraction of a percent (0.3 percent) of
student differences in achievement. This
effect, while statistically significant, is orders
of magnitude smaller than that associated
with any other major component of the
education system, including: measured
and unmeasured student characteristics;
teachers; schools; and districts.
5. Individual superintendents who have an
exceptional impact on student achievement
cannot be reliably identified.

When I was first considering a superintendency, my mother said, “I don’t care where you go Kimberly, but pick someplace and stay there or you’ll never make the difference you want to make in the world.” She was right. Further, in this decade, on this day, in our school district, I know I’m making a difference in student achievement through my leadership, my relationships with building level administrators, teachers, students and parents. I’m making that difference not because I’m exceptional but because of the focus of my leadership. As superintendents, we have to include the central mission of our systems in our focus, goals and direct involvement in our instructional programs. Many of my colleagues are doing so every day, right here in Western New York.

I don’t dispute the author’s findings for the time period they studied. The traditional role of the superintendent is changing and no longer can the authors’ conclusion be considered  acceptable for our school systems:

Superintendents may well have impacts on factors
we have not addressed in our study, such as the
financial health of the district, parent and student
satisfaction, and how efficiently tax dollars are
spent. And to be certain, they occupy one of the
American school system’s most complex and
demanding positions. But our results make clear
that, in general, school district superintendents have
very little influence on student achievement in the
districts in which they serve. This is true in absolute
terms, with only a fraction of one percent of the
variance in student achievement accounted for by
differences among superintendents. It is also true in
relative terms, with teachers/classrooms, schools/
principals, and districts having an impact that is
orders of magnitude greater than that associated
with superintendents.

It remains our responsibility to fill all of the more traditional roles, like attending to the financial health and capital projects and bargaining agreements. It is also our most important responsibility to positively impact our instructional programs. Our public school systems are under attack from seemingly innumerable sources. Being a school leader means standing up and saying, “the quality of our education, our expectations for ourselves and our children, our ability to make a difference in the lives of the children we serve–this is our focus, our mission, and our duty.”

NYS Leaders Visiting Randolph Central

On Friday, May 9, 2014, we were honored to host a visit to our classrooms from NYS Chancellor Emeritus Robert M. Bennett and Deputy Commissioner Ken Slentz. I first heard Regent Bennett speak many years ago and found him to be a strong advocate for the children of our state, having been instrumental in establishing family resource centers in schools including Frontier where I began my administrative career. In my opinion, there are no finer individuals working for the children of NYS than Mr. Bennett.

Ken Slentz has been a straight talking, fearless leader in our state’s journey to raise expectations for all educators and children. I have found him to be credible, direct and right on the money every time I’ve heard him speak. I am grateful for the bold moves he and Commissioner King have made, however messy they have been in implementation, to move public education forward.

Here’s what I know the work of both Chancellor Emeritus Bennett and Deputy Commissioner Slentz has resulted in at Randolph Central:

The children of Randolph Central School are receiving a more coherent and rigorous education than they ever have before in our schools. The transition and changes teachers have made with curriculum to align to the common core standards have been fast and furious and an incredible amount of work for our teachers, administrators and children. Parents have struggled at times with the new ways in which we’re teaching math. And those changes are resulting in greater understanding of mathematical concepts that will strengthen all students when learning math in high school. Why? Because students are better understanding what the numbers and equations represent, they’re not just memorizing math facts as we did when we were kids (and for students who aren’t good at memorizing? they’re getting it now). Students aren’t just randomly throwing down opinions and sentences when writing; they understand how to back up their statements. We get better at all of this with every passing day. And our student achievement on NYS assessments has risen–which means our kids are meeting greater success at each grade level and that’s just going to keep building on itself.

Any change of this magnitude is going to have some bumps and ripples. But I keep coming back to all of those conversations I’ve had over 25 years of working in public schools with our high school seniors and graduates. Ninety percent of them tell me that they really didn’t have to work all that hard in school. Too many children are failing when they get to college because they can’t handle the work–they aren’t used to it and they aren’t disciplined enough to do it. I want to be proud of the education children receive here at RCS, I want to know that we’ve pushed and challenged and supported every student.

I know parents worry about grades and that we all want our children to do well. But I don’t want a random curriculum that each teacher has to develop for herself based on ill conceived and convoluted NYS standards as we’ve had in the past. I want our brightest kids to be challenged MORE than I want them to be on honor roll.  I want to expect more of myself and of everyone in our system because frankly, I believe that’s how we improve as a community, a state, and a country.

How to Stay Gracefully

When I took the job of superintendent at Randolph Central in October of 2008, no one thought I would stay here for the rest of my career, including me. My family had bets on it and I heard far too many times in those first years “but what happens when you’re gone?” When opportunity comes knocking, it’s hard to ignore. My mother’s words to me when I first considered if I should stay at Gowanda or apply at Randolph have never left me. She said, “Kimberly, you just have to pick a place and stay there or you’re never going to make the difference that you want to make.”

I’ve since watched school districts open and fill that I would have loved to apply to: Silver Creek and Jamestown, now Frontier and Hamburg, soon my home district of Gowanda. It’s wonderful to talk with someone who’s asking if I’ll consider applying. Boosts my ego a bit and all. My reply remains, “thank you for thinking of me but I’m committed to Randolph. The Board of Education makes a commitment to me every July when they extend my contract for another year. I can’t walk away from them, from my colleagues, or from the goals and the success that we’re realizing.”

The struggle I often have now is that my fourteen years of experience as an administrator, including what I’ve learned here as the superintendent, leave me thinking, “But I know what to do there to make things better!” I stay here because I believe in what we’re doing, in the teams that we’ve worked hard to develop and in our ability to change the world–or this little piece of it called Randolph Central School District. Sounds corny? But it’s true. Most significant to me personally, is that I get to be the kind of superintendent here that I want to be, one who knows our students and teachers and community members. Where else could I have students who want to come in and have lunch with me or talk to me about their problems or visit with me at athletic events?

I read an article yesterday by a veteran superintendent, When and How to Leave Gracefully. The author Art Stellar says,

While typically lacking such public revelations, every superintendent moves on professionally at some point, whether by personal choice or someone else’s. Superintendents are, more often than not, short-term hired hands, migratory workers on a professional level.

I understand that the author’s message is largely about recognizing when it’s time to move on and how to do so well. But his article made me want to write this post, How to Stay Gracefully.  If leading for significant, long lasting school improvement results from building relationships based on trust and mutual respect–then how does that happen when administrators are moving from district to district? According to a recent article in the Buffalo News, search consultant Vincent Coppola indicates there are about ten superintendent openings in NY now and projects another ten openings in January. I suggest that there are ways to stop this trend.

We need stability and commitment in school leadership. I’m not criticizing anyone for pursuing opportunities, I’m suggesting that staying the course is good for a District and for the superintendent. Just like in a marriage worth it’s salt, there are ups and downs–good days and bad. We employ honesty and listening skills and belief in the best intentions of the other person to get through it. Those are the same things we must use as leadership teams, BOE members and School Administrators, to stay the course together for the good of our schools and communities. Because you know what? Just like in a marriage, it’s unlikely that there’s someone or someplace better out there—you just haven’t had the time to figure out the faults or weaknesses of that other superintendent or school district yet.

How do we make a long term superintendency successful? Well for one thing, let’s talk about money. I know, no one who’s making the money wants to talk about it. But honesty and transparency are part of the gig as a public school administrator. Boards have to determine what their goals are–do you want to boast that you have the lowest paid administrators in three counties? Or do you want to secure a superintendent at a competitive salary so that she doesn’t have to pay attention to every opening in every neighboring district? Our School BOE did just that, without my request, three years ago. And while my good intentions, my mother’s words, and my plan to make a difference influence my thinking to stay here–let’s be honest. I would be considering other positions if I knew I would make much more money elsewhere–that’s what most people would do given the opportunity in any field.

Remember too that a superintendent is not awarded tenure and is accountable to the School Board, the community, the faculty and staff and the students on a daily basis–Districts aren’t tied to a superintendent who isn’t doing the job by a lengthy dismissal process. BUT, communities should view it as a long term commitment and once you realize you have someone who’s communicating with you honestly and listening to your elected School BOE while making good decisions for the District, you should pay a competitive salary to keep that person. The work of a school superintendent isn’t going to change drastically from one school to another.

Please talk openly and honestly with us about our shortcomings. I watched someone lose her job in my first year as an administrator, seemingly without warning, and I thought then, “that needs to never be me!” I need to be aware, to listen, and to improve my performance continually. As a school BOE don’t leave us to wonder what you’re unhappy with or where we’re falling short. Give us the opportunity to improve. Communication, honesty, commitment and relationships? Sounds much better than a revolving door of rookie administrators.

Respectful Discourse

I’ve been writing here since 2006 with a genuine interest in better communicating with our school community and also to provide a space where people within our school community can share their thinking with me. Oftentimes, I will receive a comment that the writer asks I not share publicly or a separate email in which the writer wants to keep his or her thoughts between us. I write and read because I want to be a better superintendent. If I ever reach the point when I’m working in an echo chamber, I will need to retire. The absolute worst leader I could be is someone who believes solely in her own ideas and decisions without considering the ideas of others within our organization and community.

I also learn from asking questions and believe wholeheartedly that we’re better together than we are alone. Collectively, our teams learn from one another, offer different points of view and make better decisions–if we listen to one another first.

This weekend, I received four comments from people beyond our school community that I haven’t yet posted to the blog. Over the past seven years of writing, I can count one or two times that I haven’t posted a comment and that was only because the comment was in some way laced with profanity or unjustly injurious to someone within the organization.

Why am I hesitating to post these comments? Well, read these excerpts of the comments to get a better idea of what exactly the comments are about, all left in response to this post.

Reader #1 writes:

I am thankfully not in your district, but I am appalled at your response. To consider a child who is abiding by parent’s wishes as insubordinate in regards to testing where there IS a refusal option, (Source: New York State Student Information Repository System (SIRS) Manual, pg 64). There is no given grade, no consequences for the child, or harm against the school, seems to really be pushing the extreme of the definition of insubordination. (Source: New York State Student Information Repository System (SIRS) Manual, page 64 and 8.) Don’t blame NYSED for this. This is strictly under your district. NYSED leaves it to districts to determine what, if any action should be taken in the event students are not tested.

I suppose that is what I find most troubling about your post, you are offering regulations provided by NSED, but not disclosing them fully or presenting the whole picture to the parents. I’m not sure what you expect parents to do regarding testing they deem harmful to their children? Sit back and just take it?

How is it you claim to want to work with parents, yet your post clearly states what it is believed parents cannot do, rather than what they can do?

Reader #2 writes:

Sometimes, standing up for what you believe in puts you in a difficult position. This is quite true. Some would say a student who refuses the test is “insubordinate”. I would say s/he is practicing civil disobedience to make a point that continues to fall on deaf ears!

Your post sounds like a warning to parents not to challenge YOUR authority. Many districts have been able to work WITH parents in a reasonable way. Apparently, under your guidance, your schools won’t.

Be a leader! Do you really believe the common core and the Pearson assessments represent quality education?

Shame on you!

Reader #3 writes:

Parents may not have a legal right to dictate what schools teach, but we sure as heck have the right to voice our displeasure when we see all of the crap that CC is forcing on our kids. We’re the ones who see first hand the negative effects on our kids. We’re the ones watching our child’s future getting bleaker and bleaker because we have politicians and special interest groups falling all over themselves to experiment and profit off of the games they’re playing with education in this country! When we see English class being turns into a political science experiment meant to brainwash our kids into the current political regime way of thinking, when we see the blatant disregard for the US Constitution and the laws of our country perpetrated by our politicians and educational leaders – we sure as hell have the right to fight back! YOU as educators and administrators do not have the right to bully kids and parents who disagree with you, to outright lie to them about what they can and can’t do. Giving a child multiple detentions when they’re exercising their right to refuse a test is just plain wrong! And they CAN refuse those state tests, kids all over the country are doing it. Why else would the codes and instructions for how to handle refusals be built into the testing instructions? And leaving a special needs child unattended in a hallway because they won’t participate in a benchmark test? Unconscionable!! And the teacher making disparaging remarks to that same child? Inexcusable!! YOU are the ones who should be vastly ashamed of your actions!

What bothers me about the comments left by Readers #1-3 is that it seems that they didn’t even read my original post closely. That’s why I commented on my own post to clarify—this is about a child being instructed to “opt out” on an almost daily basis during the regular school day. Refusing academic intervention services when we know the child needs help or in the case of a special needs child who is refusing to take the regular progress monitoring testing the teacher needs to make good instructional decision making. This wasn’t about the NYS K-8 assessments—I know the points being made about refusal of the NYS tests—but do the writers know that my response to opting out of regular instruction and testing comes straight from education law? I’m not writing this to use my authority or to intimidate. I’m writing to help explain why we have to respond to what becomes a daily distraction–a child refusing to do what the teacher asks.  And what teacher is making disparaging remarks to a child as Reader #3 writes? I’m lost by how much is inferred from one post.  

Did they even read my post? Or are they using this blog to further their own agenda? I’m glad people are fighting for what they believe in—I believe the discourse on common core AND APPR AND SLOs (because much of what’s being named common core, isn’t) is  good—but it is also laden with much bad information, emotion, talk of political agendas and attitudes that remind me of those espoused by religious zealots.

There’s room in the conversation for more than one point of view but the only way we will learn from each other is through a respectful analysis of the ideas.

What bothers me next is the apparent need for writers to attack me without even knowing me, our District, our practices, my character or what we stand for—who are basing their ideas on about 1000 words printed to add another voice to the discussions our community members may be reading in the popular press or frankly, on Facebook.  This is most apparent in the last comment that follows here.

Reader #4 writes:

Kim, Kim, Kim, … Parents Do have a right to refuse this corporate schlock you feel obliged to defend. We didn’t ask for it and neither did the teachers. Neither did you if you can be honest about it. But some very wealthy people tucked a few key politicians into their pockets and set about declaring an emergency in American education that they just happened to have the cure for, at a price. Well the price is steep, it’s costing us billions but the real price is it’s robbing our kids of a chance to love learning. It’s causing our kids to hate school and hate themselves. How many more Administrators are going to stand up to this and call it out for the child abuse it is. How many more blog posts do you have in your file before you realize you are on the wrong side of education, the wrong side of kids, the wrong side of history and ultimately, the wrong side of right and wrong. Trying to keep a job that asks you to defend child abuse must be a lonely futile endeavor. Any time you’re ready to stand up for kids and education we will welcome you into the light. Until then you deserve no support and even less respect. P.s. i know you won’t allow this through so I posted it on FB. Cheers!

What purpose is served by patronizing me from the very beginning and using my first name as if this man even knows me at all? And then calling me out about posting his comment? An argument is so much more powerful if made intellectually rather than emotionally. And why is it necessary to call my character into question to make the point? Is the only way that side of the argument holds true is by calling me personally into question?

I won’t use this blog post to defend my own character. That will only incite further comments placing me forever on the defensive. And frankly this reminds me of that person we all know who isn’t really listening to us in the first place but is instead just waiting for us to shut up so that he can voice his own opinion louder or more vehemently or by attacking us for disagreeing. I realize that in responding to the comments I may elicit more comments from them–some would advise me not to acknowledge the comments at all–but I have read about and thought about the ideas presented by these readers and considered our own practices more than the four readers can know from a blog. I cannot solve the national or state debate nor do I honestly have the time and mental energy to engage in an endless back and forth about this—with those outside of our school community. I trust that our own school community knows this about me and feels welcome to come in and meet with me or ask me to a meeting or to attend one of our community forums which include “Clarifying the Common Core”. Or talk to our teachers and principals, don’t just take it from me. As always, we want to be the very best we can be for our 1000 students and that includes teaching to the common core standards, which can be found here.

There are many sides to the changes in education today. Some needed and some not, and I’m guessing what’s which varies depending on who’s talking. What I can speak to is our district, our experiences, and our future. Much good is coming of all of us working together toward common standards and goals—in particular a clearer path for all children through our school that will lead to greater success as we make good instructional decisions for all.

What Are The Most Important “First Steps” A New Superintendent Should Take?

Here’s another question from the NYS Superintendent Development Program. Anyone else out there want to add a few bits of advice for our new colleagues?

What are the most important “first-steps” a superintendent should take in a new district? First position?

Is it enough for me to just say “shut up and listen”? That’s largely what I would recommend. Okay, don’t shut up but instead use the time in the conversation when you’re talking to ask good questions. This is a time to learn as much about the organization as possible. Try hard to check your assumptions at the door, to listen to EVERYONE not just those who clamor to put their words in your ear first. Keep your door open and take time for anyone willing to walk through it.

Everyone will tell you that the first steps you take should be to build relationships with people. Getting to know everyone in the organization is important, most especially your BOE members, Admin Team and union leadership. Again, listen and learn. Every organization is unique and if you’re going to lead effectively, you’ve got to give and earn respect. That comes only one way that I know and that’s by telling the truth and following through on your word. Do both consistently. 

Work hard to shut up about two things. 1. Your previous school. Saying “at ___________ District” may be your point of reference but it doesn’t get you far with those in your new district. 2. Your judgment of the previous superintendent. It’s not helpful to pass judgment on the decisions made before you were there. You’re just like everyone else who’s Monday morning quarterbacking her decisions–you weren’t there, you don’t have all of the information she did and you aren’t qualified to second guess her.

Learn the detail of the job by asking questions. Take care of yourself along the way. Don’t neglect your health, your fitness or your family.

How Do You Enjoy A Private Life While Working As A School Administrator?

Today I continue the series of blog posts started last week in response to questions posed by students in the Superintendent Development Program.

How do you still enjoy your personal life outside of school, given that you are living in such a “fishbowl” environment? 

I’ve definitely had times in my 13 year administrative career when I didn’t do a very good job of balancing private and professional life. The first year in a new position, for example, can be disastrous personally. In my first year as superintendent, I was grinding my teeth so badly that the dentist ordered a nighttime mouth guard. Then I realized I was actually grinding them during the day, as I worked hard NOT to say or show what I was thinking all of the time. Let’s just say I’ll never be a good poker player so this is something I continue to work on every day. However now I manage it minus the teeth grinding. And my weight’s been up and down so many times that my brother’s called me Oprah.

Enjoying a personal life means working hard every day and then shutting it off when you get home. When we conducted the interview that led to these blog posts, we did so via Skype. Why? I declined the request to meet with the participants at their location. It isn’t that I didn’t want to talk with them but more that I didn’t want to give up another entire evening. By doing the interview via Skype, I was able to go home from school and get in an hour of yoga before the interview. I put taking care of myself first and saved myself another evening of arriving home at 9:00 and eating an unhealthy meal. I’m better the next day at work when I’ve taken the time to exercise, eat well and decompress the night before.

I attend games and concerts but seldom will you see me staying until the very end. It’s not that I don’t care how the game turns out, of course I do. It’s that I know tomorrow will bring it’s own set of challenges and that I need a good night’s sleep to be my best. I’m seldom up after 9:00 on a school night–I make getting a good night’s rest a priority. If someone at the game or concert is bothered by the fact that I left before it ended, I can’t control how they feel. I’m the only one who knows the demands of my job and being my best during the day serves the District better than sitting on my butt on the bleachers until the very end of every athletic contest.

Regarding the fishbowl environment, that’s particularly a problem when the administrator lives in the district. I’ve done it both ways. We live in Gowanda and when I was the Gowanda HS Principal it was much harder to go home and relax. I was ALWAYS the principal. At family gatherings, if everyone was complaining about something with school, it bothered me. I felt it was my responsibility to fix everything and so there I was, at a family birthday party, thinking about school. If I saw students hanging out on the corner late on a Friday night, I worried about them. I couldn’t jump in the car in my sweats and run down for an ice cream with my husband at 7:30 because the community saw me as the principal, at all times. Now when we want to run to Red’s for a cone, I’m just Kim–I can go without my makeup in my pajama pants if I want to. I like that much better. I still spend a lot of time here in Randolph, at work and buying my groceries and gas, our daughter lives in the District and we’ve just gotten a place at the Marina in Onoville. But when I go home, I’m just Kim. My advice to new administrators is to figure out what you most need to be mentally and physically healthy and prioritize so that those things become non-negotiable for you.