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Superintendents’ Husbands:

Encourage, Support and Bide

Their Free Time


 Karen Rue and husband, Gary.

When Karen Rue was on the verge of accepting her first superintendent appointment 11 years ago, her husband Gary anticipated he might be asked to play the role of “first spouse,” serving as informal ambassador for the school district. He was correct.

Gary Rue, a retired physical education teacher, has willingly served as his wife’s fill-in at charitable events, golf tournaments and bowl-a-thons to which the superintendent had been invited. “He didn’t see himself as a public figure, just as my favorite volunteer,” says Karen Rue, superintendent of the Northwest Independent School District in Julian, Texas.

Throughout his wife’s tenure as a superintendent of two school districts, Gary Rue has acclimated himself to being background support. “He expected that the job would take a lot of my time … but it has been more than he realized,” she says. “We’ve adjusted, but I can see how some couples may not.”

The Rues’ relationship is a personification of the findings of the only two studies that have specifically examined the impact of the superintendent’s husband on her decisions regarding job acceptance, performance and retention. One researcher framed the issue as the ability of the superintendent’s husband “to adapt to, adjust to and cope with a role to which he may not necessarily be accustomed or for which he may not be prepared.”

With AASA’s latest national survey reporting that females now hold 24 percent of all superintendent positions, the implications of this research may have greater bearing on who enters the profession and how they perform once in the superintendency.

Both studies were undertaken as doctoral dissertations. Phyllis A. Hensley, a superintendent at the time, completed her research of 21 female superintendents in a region of New York State in 1996 at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Mandy Saras studied the nine female superintendents in Idaho for her dissertation, which she completed in 2002 at Idaho State University.

Their research findings largely came to the same conclusions about the role of the female superintendent’s spouse as a supporter and encourager. Here’s a rundown of principal findings:


Personal Reactions

Two Studies on Spouses

DEMOGRAPHIC MAKEUP. The typical female superintendent in the Idaho study was married (one of the nine was divorced), was 48 years old, held a doctorate and was serving in her first superintendency. Half were serving in an administrative position in the district at the time of their appointment to the same district’s top spot. All but one lived in or moved to the district when they accepted the position, and only two superintendents had school-age children.

The typical female superintendent in New York was married, was 50 years old and held a doctorate. She was serving her first superintendency. Most did not occupy a previous position in the district where she became superintendent. Only three had school-age children.

HUSBANDS’ CAREERS. Both studies indicated the professional lives of the superintendents’ spouses were not interrupted when their wives moved into the superintendency, as most of the couples remained in their own home, with friends and family nearby.
The New York study revealed that the typical husband had earned at least a master’s degree (and 36 percent had a doctorate) and was well-established in his career, holding a professional position for more than 24 years. The husbands had “high ego, strength and emotional security.”

TRADEOFFS AND ADJUSTMENTS. Adapting to the amount of time their superintendent wives spent at work and on work-related tasks at home was the greatest emotional adjustment a husband had to make. In Idaho, two of the superintendents lived in different households than their spouse, which made the adjustment easier.

“The superintendency necessitates long hours, an inordinate number of evening meetings, total immersion in the job and high personal visibility,” Mandy Saras wrote in her conclusions. She reported that the husbands occupied their time with a variety of activities of their own.

In the New York study, Phyllis Hensley reported that adapting was easier when the husbands also had “high power careers” because the demands were similar.

Married superintendents reported their husbands were helpful around the household for the most part, sharing cleaning, cooking, laundry and yard-work duties.

NONTRADITIONAL MARRIAGES. The superintendents in the Idaho study were not challenged by insurmountable obstacles related to child care, family responsibilities and household maintenance. By and large, Saras reported, the women in her study were able to pay for housecleaning and lawn work and relied on spouses and children to help with domestic chores. The marriages, she added, “are independent of gender-based division of labor and do not resemble traditional marriages.”

The New York study concluded female superintendents “are not threatened by the success of their husband, possess a strong ego and image of themselves.” Equality in terms of earnings was not deemed important to the husbands, according to the typically higher-paid superintendents.

MOBILITY. All of the female superintendents in the Idaho and New York studies reported they were location-bound but not career-bound. The superintendents shared strong sentiments for remaining in locations with which they were familiar and in which they felt secure.

The female superintendents in New York were willing to accept another superintendency within commuting distance of their home.
The New York study referenced three cases in which the husband’s professional career was interrupted as a result of the wife’s relocation for a superintendency. Further, Hensley reported, “the problems are multiplied and magnified when the husband retires and the couple relocates.”

When the wife accepts a superintendency (“the zenith of her career,” as Hensley put it) at the same time the husband retires from his career, competing forces may be at work. “He may not be able to be the encourager and supporter when he is dealing with his own issues regarding age, identity and self-worth. When one combines these feelings with relocating and giving up friends and familiarity of one’s surroundings, these problems are intensified and possibly insurmountable,” Hensley concluded.

PARTNER AND SUPPORTER. Overwhelmingly, the husbands were portrayed as the superintendents’ greatest and most constant supporters and sources of encouragement. “His trust, encouragement, support and pride are crucial factors in her career,” Saras concluded. “She believes her husband was a determining factor in her accepting her job and that he continues to impact her job performance by being supportive.”

Added Hensley: “The husbands in this study … are willing to share their wives with the public.”

The superintendents in both studies agreed: Should the job come into irreconcilable differences with her marriage, they would choose to end their employment, not their marriage.

Jay Goldman is editor of School Administrator. E-mail: jgoldman@aasa.org


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