Considering Relocation? Points To Ponder

by Torch Lytle

The superintendency is both an extraordinarily rewarding and an extraordinarily demanding job. If and when you decide you want to consider applying for a position, keep these considerations in mind before you apply for a particular position and as your candidacy moves forward.

• Willingness to relocate. Don’t apply for positions that would require you to relocate unless you and your family have discussed the possibility.

• The commute. Are you willing to spend an hour or two in the car every day, including driving home from late evening meetings?

• Confidentiality (if others find out ...). If your current bosses or colleagues find out that you’re applying for other positions, what will their reaction be? Best to let them know you’re looking, especially if you make it to the interview stage because they’re likely to find out anyway.

One of my superintendent colleagues lost his job because the newspapers in another city announced he was a candidate for the local vacancy, and he hadn’t told his school board or the mayor he was applying.

Family Effects?
• Impact on family. Each layer of promotion is likely to mean a greater time commitment and more responsibility. Consider whether you are at a point in your life where you and your family can accept this. (For instance, your kids are in college versus elementary school.)

• Retirement-fund portability. If you’re considering taking a position in another state, be sure you understand beforehand what your options will be, both in the state you’re leaving and in the state you’re moving to. Early in one’s career it’s easy to discount these considerations, but state pension plans tend to reward extended service, so building up years of service has a substantial long-term impact.

• Tenure — will you have it and how soon? Tenure laws vary from state to state, but tenure can be important when you’re trying to be a change agent and not everyone is happy with where things are headed.

For superintendents, an employment contract is likely to be more important than tenure, but all administrators need to have a clear and written understanding of their terms of employment.

• What they’re looking for versus who you are and what you’re good at. Especially when you’re looking for your first superintendency, it’s easy to get so caught up in the excitement and possibility that you forget to consider whether you’re really right for this job. This is a time for brutally honest talks with those who know you best.

A Close Match?
• The culture (and experience) match — will I fit? In the same vein, you need to be candid with yourself about whether your background and experience match up with the new job. If you don’t speak Spanish but are about to be appointed superintendent in a community with a large Hispanic population, what will it take to be successful?

• Who will you be replacing, and why did he or she leave? What conditions will you walk into? What expectations? Whether your predecessor was beloved or hated, his or her shadow will still linger in your office and have a great deal to do with people’s expectations for you.

Regardless, you need to be respectful of your predecessor and give careful consideration to how your style differs from his or hers. (I’ve gone into positions where my predecessors had left everything in good order, and into others where I had to stave off imminent disaster.) Taking time to learn is imperative.

• Stability of the leadership. Consider leadership stability, especially at the board and superintendent level. If there has been a pattern of continuous turnover and redirection, that won’t make your job easier.

• When the folks at the new gig call their friends at your old gig, what will they hear about you? Guaranteed, as soon as rumor of your appointment circulates (and perhaps sooner), folks will start contacting their friends and family back where you’re coming from, even if it’s on the other side of the country. If you’re likely to get good reviews, that will make entry easier. If you’re not, anticipate trouble. When I was appointed in Trenton, N.J., as the first white superintendent in more than 20 years, teachers, administrators and politicians all checked with their friends in Philadelphia to make sure I was acceptable to an African-American community. Because I got good reviews, I was good to go.

Am I Serious?
• If it’s offered, are you likely to say yes? (Otherwise don’t apply.) Do not apply for jobs just so you can have the experience of going through the process. The education world is a much smaller place than you may think, and you don’t want a perception floating around that you’re not a serious candidate.

• Do I really want to do this? Why? As you’ve learned more about the job during the recruitment and selection process, are you still interested? It’s OK to withdraw your application, but it’s best to do so before you’re the finalist.

Changing from the job you’re in to a new job is emotionally and physically challenging. Commitment and moral purpose are the best predictors of success. Are you certain you’re ready to do this?

— Torch Lytle

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