Guest Column

The Superintendency: Is It Worth It?

by KIMBERLY MORITZ

As superintendent in Western New York’s Randolph Central Schools for 18 months, I can honestly reflect on my first year with gratitude that I survived the transition. Life is much better 1 1/2 years into the work than it was four months in.

With significant turnover predicted in the superintendency over the next couple of years, it seems worth writing about what the transition can be like for any administrators considering the position. I’ve worked in large and small districts as an assistant middle school principal, a high school principal and an assistant superintendent, but none of those positions is quite like the superintendency.

When I started in December 2008, I was absolutely immersed in the job. I didn’t feel overwhelmed or regret the decision; I was simply mentally consumed by the work to the point where I was oblivious to world events. The presidential inauguration? I missed it. A national health problem with peanut paste? I had no idea. I read the local newspaper every day during lunch in my office but only to comb through it for mentions of our students or school district.

Having a Blackberry, which kept me connected to the district 24/7, didn’t help either. I didn’t miss a beat about school, but I would have benefited from unplugging for a couple of hours in the evenings. I didn’t attend meetings out of the district unless I absolutely had to, and I didn’t get into the classrooms as I’d intended in my ambitious entry plan.

For the first seven months and most of the first year, I couldn’t turn off my head, find any balance or take care of myself. It was the most difficult work transition I’ve ever experienced. I fully felt the weight of the responsibility and the import of every decision I was making every day. It was exhausting.

Hope Emerges
Eighteen months in, I’ve located that balance. Actually, I started to find it at the beginning of this school year. I think it just took that long for me to make the transition, from hitting the ground running to building relationships to developing teams and learning the work.

In particular, working to build trust with the board of education members, our union leadership and the district’s administration team definitely helped me. Establishing routines and knowing what to expect helped. Now I know whom I need to call to help me solve which problems. I know the strengths of my administrators and the interests of each school board member. I can better anticipate what’s coming next and be more pro-active.

And I’ve learned to request assistance. Just asking my secretary to schedule time for classroom visits on Tuesdays through Thursdays, such a simple concept, has helped me immeasurably. I must learn to leave behind whatever paperwork or phone call needs to be addressed and concentrate on learning during that time. It’s the best part of every day.

In addition, I’ve figured out the four other full-time administrators in the district know how to do their jobs well and I don’t need to be involved in every problem handed to me by our community, teachers or students. I’ve worked hard to ask people to follow the chain of command, knowing that I’m here afterward if they don’t feel they’re getting the answers they need, while trusting others to do their own work.

No Guilt Pangs
Something else that’s aided me, perhaps most of all, is that we simply must make time to exercise and eat right or the stress of the position and lack of healthy activity will compound our problems.

For me, that means forcing myself to get on the treadmill every morning at 5 o’clock, planning what I will eat so I’m not running to the corner pizza shop for whatever I might grab before an evening meeting, and scheduling time for family and friends. I don’t feel guilty about attending my son’s athletic events or going away for the weekend with my husband. I’m a much better superintendent for this district if I take care of myself and my family, so why waste energy feeling guilty about it?
And what about the position, the work — is it worth it?

It’s by far the greatest job I’ve ever had. Honestly! I get the opportunity to lead a group of incredible professionals, to work on some amazing teams, to make collaborative decisions about the direction of an entire school system, to change our little piece of the world in meaningful ways. We’re focusing on our vision of “learning with passion, innovation and leadership,” starting with our faculty.

My hope is that our efforts will change learning for our students preK-12 so they graduate with strong skills in problem solving, collaborating, leading, communicating, assessing and analyzing information, and thinking. Changing learning in a public school system in meaningful ways means students will graduate ready to solve the problems of the world. It’s definitely worth it.

Kimberly Moritz is superintendent of Randolph Central Schools in Randolph, N.Y. E-mail: kmoritz@rand.wnyric.org. She blogs at http://kimberlymoritz.com.