The Paradoxical Journey of a Superintendent’s Family

by Steve P. Singleton

The itinerant nature of the superintendency carries definite implications for the children and spouses of superintendents. During my 30-year career in education, each move has actually been a blessing for our family, though it may not have seemed so at the time.

One move during a particularly difficult professional time contributed literally to the growth of our family. As I look back at my family’s passage, I’ve picked up a few lessons that have served me in my leadership.

The journey began in 1980 in Mountain Home, Ark., located in the north-central part of the state on the border with Missouri. As a young junior high principal, I inherited a sex education program that blew up in controversy during my first year, becoming one of the leading news stories of the year in the local press. The community was deeply divided over what content was appropriate in teaching students about sexuality.

After the election of three new school board members whom I campaigned against because of their differing views, I knew it was time to move on. (Lesson 1: Know when it is time to leave.)

I was hired as an assistant superintendent in Marion, Ark., about five miles west of Memphis, Tenn. The first question posed during my job interview was, “Have you ever been involved in a controversy?” I asked if sex education rang a bell for the interviewers. We shared a hearty laugh because they had a similar controversy. (Lesson 2: Most administrators deal with the same problems so don’t think yours are unique.)

During the first year in my new job, we received a phone call from a physician in Mountain Home. He had been a former school board president who was instrumental in helping start the sex education program. He wondered if my wife and I, married for 11 years without children, would be interested in adopting a baby that was to be born later that year. The doctor explained the need to place the baby out of the area.

Four months later, we received the call letting us know of the birth of our son. We picked Paul up when he was only 17 hours old. He was perfect!

Celebrating a Birth

Now consider the paradox: A family is born through the most ironic of circumstances. A young couple leaves a town because of controversy over a sex education program and then receives their greatest gift—a child—from that same town. Had we not left a place we both loved, we would not be the family we became. (Lesson 3: Some doors don’t open unless other doors are closed. Alternatively, when you’re in a valley, there is a mountaintop somewhere near.)

The people of Marion surrounded us with love and encouragement. They celebrated with us in the birth of our son. At the community’s yearly Thanksgiving service sponsored by the local churches, we were asked to say a few words since everyone knew how thankful we were. My wife told me, “You can do it.”

At the service, I quoted from Isaiah, “Ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” I held up my 4-month-old son and thanked the community for being our Jerusalem. With all of these events changing our life, an amazing thing happened. We forgot all about the controversy and hard feelings of the past. Marion was truly our Jerusalem. (Lesson 4: Get over it and move on! Each day is precious; don’t waste it.)

Home Again

After 10 years in Marion, the last five as superintendent, I decided to look for new challenges. In yet another twist of irony, the superintendency opened in Mountain Home, the place I had left a decade earlier in frustration and disappointment. I always had wondered if I could have handled the superintendent’s job if the sex education controversy had not occurred.

Before applying, I called my physician friend, the former board president, to ensure this would not be a problem for Paul, who was now 9. He assured me it would not. During the interview process, the board asked, “Have you ever been involved in any controversy?” I reminded them (an entirely new seven-member board) how the sex education program became the second leading news story of the year behind a double homicide.

I also was asked about the former board members who had been on the opposite side of the issue from me. I said I had long ago let go of any hard feelings. I also shared with the board how this circumstance had in fact provided our greatest gift.

At the reception to welcome my family back to Mountain Home, I was pleased to see one of these former board members. We shook hands and after a brief exchange shared a hug. I have always appreciated this person’s courage to make such a generous gesture. (Lesson 5: Forgiveness frees everyone who gives it and accepts it.)

I’m now midway through my 10 th year as superintendent in Mountain Home. That makes my tenure the second longest in the district’s past 50 years. My son will graduate this year from the place where he started life. And as I look back over our journey, it is easy to see how the opportunities for renewal and redemption are in front of us each day. All we need to do is embrace them.

Steve Singleton is superintendent of the Mountain Home Public Schools, 1230 South Maple, Mountain Home, AR 72653. E-mail: ssingleton@mtnhome.k12.ar.us