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Living Inside the District

BY JAMES M. ACKLIN

Acklin 

As a superintendent for over 10 years, I have experience with both living arrangements. I’ve lived in the school district where I served as superintendent and outside the district. Although there are pros and cons to both scenarios, I’ve found overriding advantages to living inside the district. It has been a better situation for me and my family when I worked in the same community where my children attended school.

Community members generally like their superintendent to be visible. They want to see you at school events, at community functions, at athletic contests and in other informal situations. Visibility is much easier to attain when you live in the district. You become part of the fabric of the community.

When parents and community members notice you at community festivals and in everyday situations at the bank and grocery store, they get to know you as a person. At the same time, you gain insight into students and families that I’ve found more difficult to come by when living outside the district. To achieve the same level of face time and connectedness takes special effort.

Parents and community members tend to perceive a superintendent who lives in the district as being automatically more vested because they recognize the decisions you make ultimately will affect your own children. Tough decisions are easier to make when you keep in mind what is best for students. A decision on a controversial matter may be more readily accepted when people know the decision affects your own.

When the 10th anniversary of the Columbine shootings approached, rumors ran rampant across the Internet that a repeat incident would happen at a school somewhere in the country. As a result, several parents in the district I serve in St. Joseph, Ill. (population 3,900), decided to keep their children home for the day. I fielded several calls from parents and the news media over concern for student safety. In each instance, I was able to assure the caller that safety is our No. 1 priority and outlined the extra precautions that day. At the end of each conversation, I indicated my own son, then age 14, was present at school. That fact spoke volumes about our decision to hold school that day.

A superintendent who works in a different district than where his or her children attend has two sets of school activities to work into a schedule. This can present quite the challenge, especially if one’s children are involved in extracurricular activities. This is true even for superintendents who reside in the district. When you juggle activities from two districts, the challenge becomes enormous. There is simply no way your own children will receive as much of your time as they deserve. That time lost with your children never can be regained.

My oldest son became involved in interscholastic sports during my tenure as superintendent at a school district in which he was not enrolled. As a result, there were games I could not attend due to overlapping schedules and insufficient travel time. A good number of the games I managed to attend involved dropping everything at work and “bending” the speed limit on the way to the contest venue to arrive on time. I not only felt torn about the games I could not attend, but experienced a fair amount of stress just getting to the games I could fit into my schedule.

Jim Acklin is superintendent of St. Joseph-Ogden School District 305 in St. Joseph, Ill. E-mail: AcklinJ@sjo.k12.il.us

 

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