What’s a Superintendent Worth?

Over the next couple of days I’m going to think out loud about the importance of excellent school district leadership at the top. Why? This coming Tuesday, one of the items on our regular board meeting agenda is to vote on our superintendent’s evaluation, and another, on his new contract in which we are proposing to give him a significant bump in both salary and benefits commensurate with the three larger school districts in our state. We’ll still be fourth salary-wise, but only because the supe himself applied the brakes in a board authorized contract negotiation meeting with our board chair.

About a month ago, an article in the major metro newspaper reported on our last public work session and accurately depicted our initial deliberations on these subjects. I knew the lunatic fringe would be yamming big-time. Today, in our local paper’s letters to the editor section, the looney’s found their voice. The next edition of the local paper comes out the same day as our board meeting on June 19, so there is no time for disagreement in print.

Even though I’m not the sharpest political tool in the shed (I frankly don’t pay attention to political details — “just do the right thing” is my mantra), I knew from the get-go that I’d best be prepared to explain my vote during discussion after the motion to approve the supe’s contract.

Here’s what I’m thinking so far…

The most important thing a school board can do for its community is hire a good superintendent. Then, if the board strikes it rich, the next most important thing is to keep the superintendent! (That’s something that negative armchair quarterbacking local newspaper letter writers don’t or don’t want to understand.)

When the Board of Directors, duly elected by the people, hired our superintendent, we hit the mother lode. He is gold, with national potential, and he hasn’t lost his luster after three school years. We’re out of the honeymoon phase, but we’re still very fond of him. His annual evaluations have been superlative. That he publicly stated he wants to stay in the district should be a cause to rejoice for taxpayers who understand and care about the education of the community’s children. (And if you didn’t vote for me in 2003 or 2007, tough. Organize a recall.)

I knew we were on to something important for our schools when, in 2004, I was serving as the “phone guy,” investigating the soon-to-be supe’s references. He had plenty, but I had plenty of time. I called everyone on his list, and then I began to seek out people that were not on the list. Before I called it a ballgame, I had talked to custodians, secretaries, and a professional union representative from his former district. I figured that someone would give me some dirt.

But the results of all the hours spent on the phone and over 40 phone calls was this: not only did no one have anything bad to say about our candidate, but at least one of three words — two adjectives and one noun — popped up in every conversation. Sometimes all three words! Those words are: honest; collaborative; and integrity. Realizing that no conspiracy to deceive me could be that extensive, I concluded that these people were telling me the truth. When asked point blank about things they were unhappy about with regard to him, all they could say was, “I wish he wasn’t leaving.”

Next, I’ll deal with why leadership is “thee” crux issue in school improvement.

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