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President's Corner                                           Page 55

 

The Superintendency Is a

Family Affair  

 

BY BENNY L. GOODEN

 Benny Gooden

After more than four decades in school administration with most of those years as a district superintendent, the family identity that attaches to a school leader has been indelibly etched on the Gooden household.

Three grown children scarcely can recall when their father was not a superintendent, and after all these years can recount the highs and lows of having family ties to the most visible educator in the community. One child would happily remain anonymous relative to Dad’s work, while the others relish the excitement. Regardless, for all of them, there has been no shortage of interesting experiences as children of the superintendent.

One vivid memory outshines the others, and that is the barrage of verbal abuse the children endured from their fellow students when their father decided, in the wee hours of the morning while all others were asleep, to keep schools open after a few snowflakes fell. The other much more important decisions I made are forgotten, but they cannot seem to shake this relatively minor one from their memories.

Spouses who take on the role of partner to a school leader have their own unique challenges, most significantly learning to deal with the lack of a private life in the community. Casual acquaintances will approach the superintendent’s spouse about the most trivial issues and expect prompt results.

The wise partner quickly learns to diplomatically defer items of concern through the proper school channels while delicately preserving the friendships that precipitated the contact. The experienced spouse learns to avoid becoming a message center or liaison for addressing the myriad issues that regularly emerge.

The glass house in which the school leader’s family lives may be novel, but it is not something most relish. The high expectation by employees and the public that the superintendent’s family dynamic is a “model” educationally and personally is beyond the reach of most of us. Most educators’ families are less than perfect and experience the same personal dramas that everyone else encounters. Learning to live as a regular family in the community will serve school leaders and their families well.

Having school-age children enrolled in district schools gives the school leader an important connection to the community that helps inform decisions regarding policies, programs and planning and can have a tremendous impact on thousands of students. Our orientation to the job as a consumer can help us better understand why we do what we do.

Experiencing the work of great teachers through our own children can bring a renewed appreciation and awareness of how important these teachers are. Unfortunately, experiencing subpar performance from others can underscore the reasons poor teaching cannot be accepted at any level. Our own children and grandchildren can bring a sense of urgency to our mission that might not otherwise emerge.

Just as the minister’s family is directly tied to the mission of the church, the superintendent’s family must be committed to and stand up for public education and what it means to students from varied backgrounds and needs. Adult children’s reflections on their school experiences in terms of teachers and classmates validate the importance of what school leaders do. These family experiences also bring a renewed dedication to making our public schools a place where every student can succeed.

The personal consumer experience that the superintendent’s family has with the schools we lead forms a real connection that our teachers, other parents, the community members and the students themselves recognize and appreciate. At the end of the day, our family and the public school family in our community can unite as one.

Benny Gooden is AASA president for 2012-13. E-mail: bgooden@fortsmithschools.org

 

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