Superintendents by nature are multi-taskers and overachievers. For some, the day-to-day demands of the job are more than enough to keep them fulfilled. For others, sometimes an extra challenge or two is necessary. I personally like to juggle lots of different objects while keeping an eye on the big prize and regularly did so during my 17 years as a superintendent.
My flirtation with “multi-jobbing” began while I was a teacher. From the day I walked into my first teaching experience, I felt I could do a good job running the school. I was young and brash and filled with ambition. To realize my dream of becoming a principal, I entered a doctoral program. This was the beginning of my juggling act. I taught all day and studied nights, weekends and summers. I was in my late 20s.
I began to take the multiple-job juggling seriously when during my first principalship a fellow principal and I would often get together to complain about how ill-prepared teachers were when it came to career advancement. Our conversations led to the creation of my first outside business. The two of us ran professional workshops and offered individual coaching on resume writing and career planning and advancement. We actually were quite busy and, while not lucrative, the work also wasn’t stealing time from our intense, primary jobs.
A New Adventure
As I moved up the career ladder and took an assistant superintendent’s position in a Chicago suburb, I continued the career advancement work on the side. At about the same time, Illinois put into place a new statewide system of mandatory training for administrators. The state board of education put out a call for trainers. I answered it, leading to six to eight days a year of training, something I continue to do today.
In the middle of all of this, I accepted an adjunct teaching position at National-Louis University in Evanston, Ill. For five years, I taught semester-long graduate courses on staff development and supervision and evaluation one night per week. In addition, I also sometimes taught Saturday graduate classes at North Park University in Chicago.
At the same time, my mentor, John Cahill, then superintendent in Lincolnwood, Ill., and a partner in the Bickert Group, a search consulting firm, invited me to ride along on a proposal presentation and participate in the process. This was the start of a new adventure. Once I became superintendent in Libertyville, Ill., I kept all the secondary jobs with the blessing of my new board of education. I gradually stepped back from the adjunct teaching but increased my involvement in superintendent searches.
I’ll never forget my first week as a superintendent. To say the least, the memories have a lot to do with my insatiable appetite for juggling more than one or two things at a time. Several months before being picked as Libertyville’s superintendent, I had agreed to lead a professional development day, addressing teachers and administrators of a prominent Arizona school district. This was all to take place during a family vacation in San Francisco.
With my new board’s approval, I followed through with my preplanned vacation. With the blessing of my family, I flew to Phoenix, spent my day with various groups and returned to San Francisco and vacation mode by dinnertime. I’ve never desired to be one of those professional consultants who fly back and forth across the country, never quite sure what the next week will bring. I was just doing what I do best, carrying on as a multi-tasker — teaching graduate courses, leading workshops for administrators, consulting on early childhood education and conducting executive searches. That’s how it all started.
During my 17-year tenure as a superintendent, the order of importance never changed: School district first, everything else after that. The order of the other jobs tended to rotate, with the search business gaining importance with each passing year. After several years as an associate on several searches, I was anointed senior associate and given the opportunity to lead my own searches. When the Bickert Group merged with Harold Webb Associates and PNR Associates three years ago, I was offered a partnership. Now I am the president of the offspring of the merger, BWP and Associates, a national firm that is growing rapidly.
In July 2009, I formally retired as a full-time superintendent. Always an overachiever, I worried about what I would do with all of the newly discovered free time. During the first six months of retirement, I completed two superintendent searches in northern Illinois and eight Administrator Academy of Illinois training workshops, mentored two new superintendents, served on an Illinois Association of School Administrators committee to create a new professional development model for superintendents, and taught a graduate course.
I guess this wasn’t enough. In December, I received a request from my former school attorney asking whether I would meet with a school board president to talk about consulting for a local school district. I really liked the board and accepted the job as special projects consultant from January through the end of the year, working about four days a week.
Upon the resignation of the superintendent, I was asked to serve in a co-interim role for the 2010-11 school year because the state pension system limits the number of days a retired superintendent can work. This has been the best of both worlds; I can work at a job I love, I have a great co-superintendent, and I can fill my free days with the multitude of other things I enjoy.
Mark Friedman recently retired from the superintendency in Libertyville, Ill. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tips for Fellow Multitaskers
For other multitaskers who find no limit to their ambition, Mark Friedman offers this advice:
• In all you do, don’t forget your first focus on family and full-time job.
• Don’t neglect your personal wellness. Eat healthy, and watch your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
• If the pressure builds too heavily, back out.
• Learn to say “no.” When you have reached your time limits, don’t let flattery force you into agreeing to do something you know you can’t handle.
• Don’t do it for money only. Do things you want to do.
• Do not try to do everything yourself. Have faith in others.
• If interested in consulting, network with others when the opportunity presents itself. Let people know where your interests lie.
• Make and keep friends. Good friends are truly hard to find.
An opportunity: In the search consulting business, BWP and Associates always is looking for multitaskers who want to expand their professional horizons. A little side work can be rewarding.