Board-Savvy Superintendent

Moving to Your Next Stage ... Beyond the Boardroom

by D. Gil Kettelhut

For most of us, there will come a time when we decide we have had enough fun serving as a school system administrator and wish to retire to those greener pastures. When that day comes you likely will have more control of your time. You will ask yourself: What should I do next?

Let me suggest one thing you should not do ... and that is immediately continue to attend your district's board of education meetings. While many readers may find this a laughable prospect, some administrators do desire to stay in the loop.

Why would a superintendent or central-office administrator do this? Most of us are proud of our work and the accomplishments we made through the years, and we harbor no great desire to see the new person start making changes. It is almost a stake to our heart to see what we developed undone by a successor in our superintendent chair that has no history with the district.

As such, we might want to continue to attend board meetings either to see that changes are not made to our programs and practices without thought and input, or maybe we just want to gain additional recognition for our accomplishments as the board members discuss the positive merits of the district. Whatever the desire, my advice is stay away, for your sake and that of your successor.

Interference Moves
Think back to your first school board meeting as a new superintendent in a new community. Did you really want the immediate past superintendent in the audience checking on your work as you were conducting business with board members? Most of us didn't want this for various reasons. Who wants to be compared to his or her predecessor when starting a new position?

What if an issue arose that you were not familiar with because of your newness to the district? Would you want the board members to turn to the previous superintendent in the audience for clarification or assistance? My guess is none of us would relish this as we strive to make a good impression on our new bosses.

I was fortunate years ago that my predecessor of 13 years told me he was going on a lifetime vacation to Europe that fall in order to make life easier for me and for him. He didn't have to do this, but it did make my life easier when I was following a star.

Now think of this in another way. You are the proud past superintendent who has retired, and you go to the board meeting feeling good about yourself and your accomplishments. The new superintendent, who may be an experienced and savvy school administrator, asks some pointed questions concerning why previous decisions were made or why matters were handled in a manner that the new superintendent thinks could be improved. Would you want to sit in the audience while numerous eyes looked your way questioning what you had done? Would you jump to the defense of your practices even though they were correct? Either way it is a no-win situation for everybody sitting in that board room. You don't need this pressure and neither does the new person.

Easing Transitions
What are your options if you wish to stay close to the school district you gave the better part of your life to without becoming a distraction to the governing process? In my experience, I've observed some superintendents who have lived through this do a couple of things that made the transition easier.

First, the former superintendents made sure they kept extremely busy during the first months of their retirements and often out of sight to the public. Some made travel plans to visit places they had always hoped to go but were always too busy, such as Europe. This ensured they were not close to the situation at home; there would be no chance to drop by and see whether the new person was carrying out the last directives the predecessor made before bowing out of professional life.

Also, assuming the past superintendent was still living in the community, it made it impossible for others to contact him or her to raise questions about what the new person was doing. Remember, these neighbors know you well, and good superintendents developed good relationships with their patrons. Who would be more logical for community members or school staff to seek out when things don't start the way they want. Don't fall into this trap as it serves neither you nor the other person.

Lastly, while it may not be for everyone, another way to deal with this major career transition is to move to that warm retirement state or to that larger city in your state with services and conveniences that you desire as you enter the next phase of your life.

Remember, you were a good educator, you've reached your goal to move on in your life, and you can use the newspapers or newsletters to see what is happening in your school district. Have some fun, smile and enjoy the other side of life that you missed while attending hundreds of activities, programs and school board meetings.

Gil Kettelhut is administrator of Educational Service Unit 3, 6949 S. 110 St., Omaha, NE 68128. E-mail: