A very interesting tidbit out of the Christian Science Monitor ……. with No Child Left Behind starting to take apart schools, districts find themselves in desperate need of administrators with the vision and commitment to take a failing school and turn things around. This means getting in the face of teachers, increasingly facing down school boards and parents who don’t want to see changes. Being a superintendent can be a really tough job! As the article notes the average tenure of a superintendent today is 18 months in a non-suburban setting and 3 years in a suburban setting …… hardly the time needed to take the wheel and change course.
At the same time everyone is desperate to make changes, there are in fact very few people with the certification to become superintendents, and even fewer with the willingness to do it. This is what they call in economics, a buyers market. Since administrators are not unionized, they can privately negotiate their contract with the school district, and as the article explains, this is more and more starting to cost school a great deal more money than they are willing to shell out, but that they are finding little choice.
The article cites a Georgia school district that is at hte end of the rope …. they are about to lose accredidation. In comes the former superintendent of Pittsburgh who was one of the few willing to consider the job ….. provided he gets $250,000 personal salary, a $2 million budget for consultants, a lincoln town car, a driver, and money to hire a personal body guard, since there have been problems down in that neck of the woods.
Some people think that teachers unions hold schools hostage (and sometimes they do)…… but the administrators are starting to get into the game as well because they are in even higher demand than teachers, and unlike teachers who often times cannot negotiate for themselves, these administrators can hold out because in the end they know they will get what they want because the federal government has a gun to the school district’s head.
The articles also notes that school districts which are predominantly minority, and are holding out for minority candidates to lead them, are increasingly in ever more dire straights because fewer and fewer minority candidates are available. As you might guess, because of issues with the percent of the population in poverty and such, schools with larger minority populations are the very districts that tend to be in greater need of someone to come in and turn things around.
So the question is: with the ability to make such lavish demands just as the economy isn’t doing good, why aren’t more and more people rushing to enter school administration. There is a good reason (which the article notes, and I believe to be factual).
First off, superintendents have very long work schedules ….. a good teacher easily works 50-60 hours a week, excluding extra curricular activities (which can easily bring things up to a total closer to 70). Superintendents can see 80 hour work weeks with batting an eyelash. And unlike teachers who get the satisfaction of working with students, this job sees little of that. These meetings involve working with budget specialists, irate parents, coordinating with local bigwigs over use of facilities, coordinating with police if there are problems that require their services, working in the never boring world of labor management, including regular meetings with the one or more unions representing your workers …. then there is the school board (note: politics, politics, politics) who will make demands of you to do things that you often times may not want to do, often times may know will be counter productive, but you do because you hope that the Board will learn the error of their ways, or you hold out to use that as leverage to get something don later …… besides, refusal means you are fired and they bring in someone who will do as they want. You have to work with lawyers and other administrators all of the time. And, if your district needs to be doing any building, there are engineers and architects to deal with ….. not to mention contractors.
Oh …. and then there is the need to keep a positive public persona by keeping yourself both visible and charming. When something goes south, you have to have the answer, even if you don’t. And at all times, you have to assure the public that everything is being done to keep the students best interests in mind, and that improvement is always going forward, even when school board politics, unions, and parents may be, in your opinion, moving to thwart your vision of improvement.
I’m sure this was not an intention of the NCLB legislation, but, borrowing from the article, the era of the diva superintendents is here.