Guest Column

School Daze: The Life of a Rural Administrator


An old friend once told me, "Old superintendents never die, they just fossilize." So maybe that’s how I landed in Fossil, Ore., (population 430, student enrollment 100).

During my first week here last July, having just arrived from my stint as superintendent of an equally small district in the Willamette Valley (which disappeared completely due to a consolidation!), I spent my first several nights sleeping in a tent pitched on the school football field. Then I was able to rent a room at the local old folks home, at least temporarily.

That’s the reality of life for a genuine rural school superintendent.

What follows is a composite of the sometimes menial, sometimes quirky, but always interesting and necessary tasks that are the bread and butter of running a public school in rural America.

Off and Running
1. Arrive school at 7 a.m., unlock doors, visit with cafeteria staff, check on new garbage cans.

2. Visit with bus drivers.

3. Consider transmission problem on old bus.

4. Greet arriving teachers.

5. Make final preparations for combination 7th/8th grade English class whose teacher is out sick.

6. Work on licensing new bus driver.

7. Greet arriving students from returning buses.

8. Supervise halls and playground.

9. Apply first aid to injured 1st grader’s head, drive student home, release to mother.

10. Teach 7th/8th grade English class.

11. Assist in supervision of halls and playground.

12. Grade English papers.

13. Work on licensing new bus driver.

14. Call the state department of education about fall reports.

15. Call mechanic about transmission trouble on old bus.

16. Call neighboring superintendent about non-resident student attending our school.

17. Counsel 5th-grade student about cheating.

18. Assist in unloading government commodities.

19. Take phone message to 3rd/4th grade teacher.

20. Briefly observe reading lesson in 1st/2nd grade class.

21. Work on developing new board policies on alcohol and drug education program.

22. Work on developing new curriculum for alcohol and drug education program.

23. Visit with parent objecting to new family life education program.

24. Eat lunch while supervising lunch room.

25. Supervise playground and halls during lunch recess.

26. Work on licensing new bus driver.

27. Meet with secretary/deputy clerk regarding agenda for upcoming school board meeting.

28. Order several new books for 3rd/4th and 5th/6th grade classrooms.

29. Confer with county recreation director on use of playground for softball league.

30. Arrange physical exams for athletic teams.

31. Schedule several junior high football games.

32. Talk with principal of alternative high school regarding admission of former student.

33. Sort through mail.

34. Meet with school board chairman, who drops by unexpectedly.

35. Replace bulb in opaque projector.

36. Order films for teacher from intermediate education unit.

37. Review tentative plans for Arts and Science Fair.

38. Fill soda machine.

39. Work on licensing new bus driver.

40. Work on arranging in-service with neighboring district.

41. Screen kindergarten records for immunization.

42. Proofread student newspaper.

43. Supervise loading of buses.

44. Visit with two parents about weather.

45. Counsel teacher with personal problems.

46. Work on licensing new bus driver.

47. Contact migrant education program about summer school attendance for several students.

48. Line football field.

49. Referee junior high football game.

50. Drive bus route with bus driver.

51. Browse current issue of Education Week.

52. Talk with county superintendent about personnel problem.

53. Visit with union representative about personnel problem.

54. Work on licensing new bus driver.

55. Work with Title I teacher on screening for Title I program.

56. Counsel two families about neighborhood feud.

57. Put up bulletin board in hall.

58. Work on licensing new bus driver.

59. Preview several videos for possible purchase by library.

60. Call county commissioner about arranging drug education program for community.

61. Make coffee for school board meeting.

62. Conduct school board meeting.

63. Attend executive session of school board meeting.

64. Work on licensing new bus driver.

The Fullest of Days
While this offers a reasonably accurate list of tasks on most days in the life of a rural school administrator, the items may vary according to the size of the district and the remoteness of its location. Likewise, the ongoing need to work on licensing a new bus driver will vary from district to district. A common variation deals in some way with cheerleaders.

Most rural school leaders would agree they’ve had days when they feel they’ve had to address every single item on this list--from the ridiculous to the sublime--within a 24-hour time frame. On many days, even that would not be enough.

Jack Lorts is superintendent of the Fossil School District No. 21-J, P.O. Box 206, Fossil, Ore. 97830. E-mail: