Feature                                                      Page 37-38

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.

Caught Between Two Worlds

Tom Schneider (right) shown as a college senior, with his father Robert, who was a superintendent. 


Me: “Well, you can’t build a new gym without issuing bonds because it really isn’t a good idea to take capital expenses from operating funds. And besides, a voter-approved referendum for a new gym is extremely difficult.”

Classmate: “You’re such a jerk, Schneider. I just thought it would be cool to have a bigger gym.”

Debates over school funding sources aren’t typical high school lunchroom conversations, but they can be when your dad is the business manager and then superintendent in the community where you attend school.

The cafeteria was where I got into most of my conflicts from having a father in such high-level positions of authority in the schools of Calumet City, Ill. I learned too late, after I helped collect signatures protesting the school lunch menu, that it was my father who was ultimately responsible for the menu and the choice of vendor.

My efforts to explain that the U.S. Department of Agriculture dictated the number of green beans largely fell on deaf ears as my fellow student diners were intent on blaming me for the blandness of the meatloaf and the lack of more appealing options. And as far as my dad was concerned, I was always a picky eater.

Growing up between the two worlds of school district management and adolescent survival, I had a unique insight into what my father hoped was taking place (kids enjoying a well-balanced meal each day) and the reality of what was taking place (kids don’t like well-balanced meals).

Listening to my father discuss his work, I developed an appreciation for all of the working parts of a school district and how a superintendent attempts to organize those into a system that can receive federal reimbursement and still serve delicious lunches. Knowing how green beans are connected to the school’s financial health is one advantage for the offspring of a superintendent, and learning to see the big picture is certainly great training for a future superintendent, which I’ve been since 2002.

Sense of Purpose


Sandy Doebert

Shannon Lockwood

Eric and Philip Chrostoski

Brian Talbott

I didn’t always want to be a superintendent. As a student, I noticed the long hours and tough decisions. March and April were the cruelest months — because staffing decisions for the next year were made then. Our family rarely went away on spring break because my father believed it just would not look right for the superintendent to be out of town when good teachers might be learning about the loss of their jobs. While I never knew the names of the teachers affected, I could envision the personal impact those decisions would have on the conversations at dinner tables of those he may have had to let go.

Respect for the weight of these decisions and the fact that my father’s job was very public helped to keep me and my three younger sisters in line. We were well-known.

My parents never had to tell us to behave because we were the superintendent’s kids. We stayed in line because we were surrounded by spies, all working for my parents. It wasn’t a question of would we get caught. Rather, it was how many people would turn us in.

Thanks to my parents (my mom was a teacher in the same community), I grew up with a sense of purpose. I could see they were committed to schools that gave kids the skills and nurturing they needed to do something with their lives. Both of my parents loved to run through the litany of former students they had encountered while out on errands — the owner of the ice cream shop, the professional football player, our former babysitter turned teacher.

That’s the largest effect of growing up with a superintendent as parent. I wonder what impact it will have on my own two sons, ages 15 and 10. I hope it will help give them an appreciation for the big picture and a well-developed sense of empathy. But, most importantly, I hope they work hard toward something they find important. Their dad can dream they will choose to make the world a better place, one green bean at a time.

Tom Schneider is superintendent of the Burr Ridge Community Consolidated School District 180 in Willowbrook, Ill. E-mail: tschneider@ccsd180.org


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