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Feature                                                      Page 36-37

 
When Mom or Dad is

the Superintendent    

EDITOR’S NOTE: Superintendents whose young children attend public schools in their school district face a special challenge. How do you go about ensuring your children are treated like other students, neither advantaged nor disadvantaged by their unique connection to the chief executive of the school system?

To gain insight, we invited several college-age sons and daughters who attended K-12 schools where their parents worked as the superintendent to share something about their experience. We also solicited comments from a superintendent who was mother to a pair of high schoolers and from two superintendents who grew up with fathers who were superintendents during their school days.

A Mutual Understanding About

Expectations

BY SANDY DOEBERT

Doebert
Sandy Doebert and her sons 

The older of my two sons was starting his freshman year of high school when I became superintendent in Lemont, Ill. The district is located southwest of Chicago, where my family had lived for 15 years by the time I became superintendent. Lemont’s the kind of small town where neighbors still call you if they see your child doing something that you wouldn’t like or bring over cookies when they know something tragic has happened in your family.

I was excited to be able to lead a school district I loved, yet as a parent, I wanted to ensure my sons were not affected by my position. I regularly communicated with their teachers and coaches and asked them to make my sons earn every grade, every part in a play, every position on a sports team. I asked them to hold my sons accountable for any mistakes they made.

We established a mutual understanding that my children, their students, would learn best if not accorded special treatment in any way. That resulted in my older son being chosen as the most improved runner on the cross country team but never being picked as Student of the Month and not winning the coveted scholarship at Honors Night despite being an excellent student. My younger son was selected for great roles in several theater productions but wasn’t chosen for National Honor Society or Prom King despite being well-rounded and an involved volunteer. My boys had the same triumphs, challenges and disappointments as their peers.

My husband and I also reminded our sons of our expectations of them as students, family members and citizens and made sure they understood they should expect no special favors or any negative repercussions from being my son. Those discussions began well before high school since I served as an assistant principal in the school district when both boys were in grade school.

READ MORE ACCOUNTS:

Tom Schneider

Shannon Lockwood

Eric and Philip Chrostoski

Brian Talbott

My oldest felt a strong need to establish his independence at school, so he never visited my office, which was located in the high school, even if he forgot to get a permission slip signed.

My younger son was much more comfortable with the reality of encountering me anywhere from the hallway to an assembly and had no trouble stopping by for lunch money. However, I made a point to never observe a teacher if my sons were in the classroom at the time to ensure I did not put either of them or the teacher in an uncomfortable situation. I also never asked for insider information from my sons about other students or discipline situations. It was a matter of establishing mutual respect for the roles we each had at school.

The faculty and staff also treated my sons just as they would any other student when their father, my husband, passed away suddenly. They reached out to the boys. They showed them they cared. But they respected their needs and allowed for their personal way of grieving. They did not enable them or define them by this fact. It was the staff’s finest moment as professional educators responding to the request of a parent even in the most difficult circumstances. 

Having positive relationships and communicating effectively and regularly with the faculty and staff made this unique situation possible. Establishing expectations with my sons was important, too. However, that shouldn’t sound any different than what we would like every parent to do. In the dual role of parent and administrator, I tried to guide my actions with the understanding of what we as educators would like to see in every parent.

Sandy Doebert retired recently as superintendent of Lemont High School District 210 in Lemont, Ill. E-mail: Sandy57@rocketmail.com

 

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