Guest Column

My Romance With Another Superintendent

by BRUCE BLANCHARD

When people learn that both my wife and I are superintendents, they seem to be overcome with curiosity. The most frequent questions we face are: “Why would you do that?” “What’s wrong with you anyway?” and “How does that work?”

The first answer involves philosophical discussions too lengthy for this forum, and the second gets into abnormal psychology, but I can try to explain the logistics of how it works.

As with many professional couples, our careers have not always been controlled by only work considerations. Job choices have been tempered by the other spouse’s professional needs and considerations of our children. When the move to administration seemed right to both of us, we were fortunate enough to find principalships in the same school system.

However, as the time came to consider moving on, we recognized the unusual opportunity we had and took stock of our situation. Our youngest was in college, and my wife France and I decided to pursue the next logical job, a superintendency. We realized this might necessitate living apart, but after six years as principals in close proximity we weren’t sure there ever was enough time left over after work to notice on a weekday. We hoped there would be common time available on weekends.

A Low Point
This is how three years after we both accepted district superintendencies we continue to make our career choices work. We maintain two homes. Even when France moved to a position much closer to my district, 36 miles instead of 106 miles apart, both school boards have an expectation of residency.

Maintaining two homes, while necessary, has been the low point of our dual superintendencies. It is not desirable from an emotional or financial point of view. We are getting better at it, and we will continue with this arrangement for at least a few more years if it allows us to both pursue professional goals.

We spend almost all weekends together at one house or the other (usually determined by who has a Saturday football or basketball game and which house is closer). Weeknights are up for grabs. In nice weather, if there aren’t too many night meetings, one of us will commute. During basketball season with weather concerns, we are grateful for an in-town house and a good long-distance phone plan. At a minimum we have a midweek “date.”

After meeting perhaps 25 times at a restaurant that was about halfway between our school districts, we were amused to learn that the staff had just figured out that despite separate cars arriving from separate directions, we were actually married and not involved in some torrid affair. Personally, at my age and condition, the thought that I could be mistaken for a Don Juan is the best compliment I’ve had in awhile.

Game Planning
A typical week looks like this:

Monday: We begin the day from my house where we spent Sunday. France arises an hour before me because her school is in the Central Time zone and mine is in Mountain Time zone. She has to be on the road by 5:45 a.m. At the end of the day I have a 7 p.m. meeting so we’ll settle for a phone call.

Tuesday: We begin from our respective homes. We have the same educational service unit meeting so I stop at her school and we travel together, a bonus. Her school has a game that night and mine doesn’t, so I stay to watch that with her. Supper is at the concession stand, of course. I stay at her house for the night.

Wednesday: We can both leave for school at 7:20 a.m. even though I am starting from her house because I lose an hour going back to Mountain Time. What a coup—we have no evening activities that night so France comes to my house for supper. There is snow in the forecast so she goes back to her place that evening in case she needs to make a cancellation call.

Thursday: No snow, of course. There never is when you’ve planned ahead. I have to host family-school conferences until 9 p.m. and she has a board meeting, so we stay in our own homes tonight.

Friday: We both have away games. Her house, while not exactly next door to either sports venue, is the closest spot so after the games the night is spent there.

Saturday: Her school plays at my school tonight. We carefully each wear the correct colors, listen to the same comment about “Who are you cheering for?” at least 463 times and then spend the night at my house.

Sunday: We check the weather forecast and the next day’s schedule and decide who stays where and start all over.

Personal Protection
Despite the hectic schedule, which isn’t that unfamiliar to most superintendents, our professional lives have many positive aspects. While becoming a superintendent can be a lonely and isolating experience, we each have a unique understanding of what the other person is experiencing.

You can’t indulge in water cooler gossip anymore. When you enter the teachers’ lounge, the room suddenly goes quiet. When you’re invited to a staff get-together, there is a palpable relief when you leave early. A spouse in the business means that your personal support system remains intact.

You do have to guard against taking things too personally when your spouse has board or other school problems, but there is someone whom you can really talk to. You are each other’s mentors and sounding boards and there is an automatic safety net about due dates on paperwork just from the conversation about your day. Some would be bothered that your life becomes that much more school-centered, but experienced administrators have given up the pretense that they have a life anyway.

I’ve observed with concern and bemusement how this arrangement has affected potential employers. Of course, as a woman working in an executive role, France always has dealt with the odd inappropriate question: “Can you handle this job and be a good mother?” or “Are you planning on needing maternity leave?” or “How can you do this job when it includes supervising the football coach?”

However it was a new personal experience to be removed from a list of finalists for a superintendency because I wouldn’t guarantee my wife would move to town and assume a properly submissive role. I was so grateful to learn about that board’s narrow minds before getting professionally involved that I didn’t even consider a lawsuit. In point of fact, having a spouse work as a top administrator in another school district is considered a positive thing by most board members and most of the community.

So far, our status as a two-administrator couple is working. It probably wouldn’t have worked at other times in our lives and we may not continue this forever, but we will leave tomorrow’s concerns until tomorrow. As for today, it is quite satisfying.

Bruce Blanchard left the superintendency in Mullen, Neb., last summer after three years. He is interim principal at Todd County High School in Mission, S.D. E-mail: bblancha@tcsdk12.org. France Blanchard is in her second year as superintendent of McPherson County High School in Tryon, Neb.