Executive Perspective                                 Page 56


The Sphere of Networks in

Professional Associations     



 Daniel Domenech

I was appointed to my first superintendency in the summer of 1978. I received a phone call from the school board president advising me the board had selected me to lead the Deer Park School District in New York. I was overjoyed and quite surprised. It had been my first interview for a superintendent’s job, and I was looking more for the interview experience than the job itself. Little did I know then that for the next 27 years I would be leading school systems in New York and Virginia.

Some readers may recall the Maytag washing machine commercial on television where the forlorn repairman claims his job to be the loneliest in the world. The machines are so good they never break down, leaving the poor man always by himself. I quickly discovered being a superintendent was very much like the Maytag repairman, a lonely job. Yes, you are surrounded by lots of people, but none of them bear the responsibility for everything that happens in the district. Only the superintendent does.

The stress of the job has been well documented but amazingly, according to the most recent AASA survey of the profession, 88 percent of superintendents indicate they would follow the same career path if given the chance. What, then, do superintendents do to cope with the stress of the job and remain effective? They seek out and network with fellow superintendents who are the only ones who truly understand the pressures of the job.

Collegial Support
As a new 30-something superintendent in New York, I was surrounded by colleagues who on the average were old enough to be my parent. Fortunately for me, they took me under their wing and had me join the organizations that provided the support structure I would need to succeed: the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, the New York State Council of School Superintendents and the American Association of School Administrators.

Over the years, I have met wonderful colleagues at association gatherings, and they have become lifelong friends. We were able to relax in each other’s company and temporarily remove the superintendent’s mantle. The good humor and the good company were salves to soothe the frayed nerves from the day-to-day operation of the school district.

As friendships and trust developed, we were able to confide on major issues and seek advice and counsel without the fear of appearing insecure or indecisive, traits no superintendent wants to be branded with. Rather than reinventing the wheel, discussions of best practices would foster a community of learning that encouraged the sharing of good ideas. I can still recall the trepidation my staff felt every time I returned from a professional conference, excited, energized and full of new ideas to implement.

I am privileged that over the span of my career I was able to lead those three associations as their president. As I matured in my superintendent positions, I was able to represent my colleagues and extend my sphere of influence beyond my school district and community and affect education policy in larger arenas. Today, as the executive director of AASA, I can continue to work with my colleagues to affect education policy at the national level. But I am also mindful of the personal needs of superintendents and the importance of the support structure they need to surround themselves with to survive and succeed.

Live Interaction
With the growing popularity of social media, people are spending more time online than networking face to face. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are amazing tools, but they hardly can be considered a replacement for live social interaction. Becoming a member of an association affords us the opportunity to meet and interact with colleagues in job-alike situations and become part of a learning community where ideas are exchanged and solutions to problems are explored.

Recently AASA held its Women in School Leadership Forum, where more than 200 women leaders in school systems around the country came together for comraderie and professional development. In several months, more than 2000 educators will convene in Los Angeles for AASA’s National Conference on Education to find out the latest on the Common Core and its assessments, teacher and principal evaluations and other hot topics affecting public education. To be at these events to meet and greet our colleagues and hone our skills as system leaders will help preserve our mental health and our position. It did for me for 27 years.

Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org 


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