President's Corner

The Buck Stopped Here


The lessons learned in our first years as a superintendent are often the lessons that carry us into our final years. A true story from my first years as a superintendent is now a vivid memory and a valuable lesson.


The setting: A beautiful fall day.


The place: Our school district offices, which happen to be attached to one of our elementary schools.


NeudeckePatricia Neudecker

The time: Early morning before school started and buses arrived.

The lesson learned: Priceless.

As I did every morning during my first years as a superintendent, I set out early for my drive to school. This particular morning was glorious as I traveled a tree-lined drive from the highway to the 100-acre site. The trees burst with autumn color and the early morning sun illuminated the landscape as if it were a painting. I was so proud to be a superintendent and so thankful to be in such a beautiful place.

I settled into my office and followed the usual routine, greeting colleagues, checking messages and my calendar, and organizing my day. A few minutes later, I heard a loudspeaker message coming from the elementary school section of our building. I can usually ignore these messages as they pertain to school staff and students, but this morning was different. It was the sense of urgency that caught my attention.

“We have an emergency on the first floor. Crisis team, please report.”

I am not part of the crisis team of the elementary building, but as you can imagine, I ran to the area anyway. After all, I am the superintendent, and they would need me. I would know what to do. That’s what good superintendents do.

When I arrived at the scene, I could hardly believe my eyes. A young doe chased by an aggressive buck had run through our fields and crashed through a classroom window with the buck still in pursuit.

Both animals jumped across the classroom, exited through the classroom door, crossed the hallway, entered the classroom across the hall, ran through that classroom and crashed through the window of the second classroom to escape to the other side of the building. They ran through the fields and disappeared into the woods. Honestly, I could not make this up.

There was blood, broken glass and deer hair everywhere, not to mention two classrooms in disarray. My heart pounded as I thought about what I should do first. And then I realized that I didn’t have to do much of anything.

A conscientious principal took charge and organized the team of people who had gathered. Within minutes the area was blocked off, cleaning began, buses were greeted, children were escorted to other areas of the building, the staff was notified, the health department was contacted and communications for parents were prepared.

I did very little, but I learned a lot that day. It is the lessons of the day the buck stopped here that I share with superintendents.

Lesson 1: Expect the unexpected.

Lesson 2: You are only as good as the team of people you work with.

That day I was reminded that a superintendent is ultimately responsible for the health and safety of everyone in the organization. That is our responsibility, and right or wrong, the buck ultimately stops with us. But the day the buck literally stopped here, I also learned that a superintendent is only as good as the people and procedures in place. I was so fortunate to have both.

After making sure everyone was all right, I walked back to my office and prepared a brief communication to our board to inform them of the situation and the remedy. I then continued with my day, thankful that in fact it was a glorious morning. It certainly was one I will never forget.

Patricia Neudecker is AASA president for 2011-12. E-mail: