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Living Outside the District



In early December 2005, minutes after hanging up the phone with the search consultant, the dialogue began over where my family and I ought to live. I had just accepted my first superintendency, in a small town southwest of Boston on the border with Rhode Island, 85 miles from my home at the time. Given the long hours and night meeting commitments, a 170-mile round-trip commute didn’t seem feasible.

As a result, my wife and I decided early in the search process that we would move if I were the successful candidate. This decision had several ramifications: My wife would need to resign from her teaching position, my children would change elementary schools, and I was in the final stages of my doctoral program.

The board of education in Wrentham (population 10,500) had no residency requirement, so after careful consideration, we chose not to move into the town where I would be serving as superintendent.

One of the challenges I faced when I took the job as a younger superintendent (I was 35) was finding a balance between work and being fully present as a father of young children, then 3 and 5. Living one town from where I work allows me to be involved with my children’s school and sports activities without being “on duty” as their superintendent.

I am fortunate to serve a community that is incredibly respectful of the boundaries of family and work. On those occasions when I do meet up with parents, community members or town officials, there is little talk about the schools — just a friendly exchange.

Living outside the district allows me to spend fulfilling time with family. For the past three seasons, I have been an assistant coach in various youth sports in which my children participate. Early in my career, a colleague suggested I coach because being an assistant commits you to those games even when you could be doing hours of work. Usually, it’s a non-negotiable on my schedule. I’m able to help out my children’s teams without being the superintendent of the participating students.

The Right Balance
Another benefit of living outside your district is your children have their own identity in school. This would be almost unattainable if they attended the school district where their father was the superintendent. In their book The School Superintendent, William L. Sharp and James K. Walter assert, “The children of the superintendent are measured, rightly or wrongly, at a higher standard. They are expected to be perfect.” The added pressure is unwarranted.

A less serious but common reality in New England relates to snow days. As soon as snow appears in the forecast, everyone becomes obsessed with the possibility of a school closing. I can’t imagine subjecting my kids to endless questioning or teasing from their classmates in the days leading up to a snowstorm. What if their father didn’t call a snow day and there should have been one?

Living in a neighboring district also has social advantages. My wife and I value being active in our community, and we have met a lot of great families both in the town where we live and the town where I work. A great byproduct is not having any influence over the education of friends’ children or your children’s friends. Each year, when our kids’ schools are constructing class lists for the following year, I‘m asked, “Don’t you have any pull over here, so my son can have Mrs. ‘So and So’ next year?” Although always asked in jest, the questions leave me wondering what it would be like if I lived and worked in the same place.

Residing in a close-by town provides a superintendent with the best of both worlds. I’m near enough to immerse myself in the schools and community I serve, yet removed just enough to ensure the privacy to commit to the needs of a young family. At another stage in my life, I might feel differently, but for me, living outside the school district creates the balance to be a successful husband, father and superintendent.

Jeff Marsden is superintendent of the Wrentham Public Schools in Wrentham, Mass. E-mail: marsdenj@wrentham.k12.ma.us 


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