President’s Corner

Call Waiting

by JOHN R. LAWRENCE

This column marks my fifth since assuming the honor of serving you as president of AASA. If you read any of the first four, you’ll probably agree with this self-assessment—I am not a professional writer. I give it my best efforts but other things come a little easier.


Adding to the literary challenge are the requirements of the magazine’s editors. Each President’s Corner column must number between 590 and 600 words to fit the spatial confines of the page. I spent about a minute a word crafting this one. We all have a calling and mine was not to be a writer. Fortunately, it was to serve children as a public school superintendent.

Two years ago, Executive Director Paul Houston wrote a meaningful article in The School Administrator titled “Not a Great Job But a Wonderful Calling.” In this column, Paul pointed out that much of the satisfaction superintendents experience comes from an understanding of mission—why we do what we do.

In addition, he suggested that the next generation of great school leaders are out there, but they need to be coaxed into the role of the superintendency. If these “ought-to-bes,” as Paul referred to them, needed our recruitment two years ago, the task of attracting future school leaders is even more difficult in the shadows of the No Child Left Behind Act. More than ever, superintendents must share the positive stories about public education. We must inspire potential school leaders so that they will aspire to replace us.

With that in mind I offer a Top Four list of reasons potential school leaders should answer the call. I started with a Top Ten list but fell victim to the word-count mandate. Here are my thoughts:

* No. 4: Make a difference in the lives of many. One-on-one master teachers and consummate principals hold the enormous responsibility and awesome opportunity to mold the lives of students. Yet superintendents enrich young people beyond the walls of a single classroom and the acreage of a school site. Effective school superintendents are not only superintendents of schools, they are superintendents of education. Their impact is felt in the community and beyond.

* No. 3: Take a stand for the profession. Today public education is bashed around more than ever and the criticism will likely increase. But while some have cited the current negativism as a reason to get out, it also marks the best of times to get in and be heard. The position of superintendent is still highly respected in the minds of the vast majority.

* No. 2: Create lifelong friendships. I keep a short mental list of my best friends. The list slightly changes over time. I call it my “Pall-Bearer List” and although I care for each person on it, this is one area where I hope to work for them prior to their working for me. One thing about the list doesn’t change—most of the individuals on it are school superintendents.

* No. 1: Experience magical moments. I sometimes cry at movies although I hide it. I moan to myself, and often out loud, when the St. Louis Cardinals lose a baseball game. The pristine sound of an accomplished violinist greatly moves me, but nothing compares to listening to those 1st graders read. As superintendent, I can listen every day, not because I have to but because I want to.

There are scores of additional reasons for young educators and older ones to enter the arena of the superintendency. The job really is a calling. Those of us fortunate enough to serve in the position have the obligation to make sure that others who ought-to-be hear our voice of invitation.

John Lawrence is president of AASA.