Executive Perspective

Retirement May Be Short-Lived Before the Bell Sounds

by Daniel A. Domenech


I’m retiring this June,” my friend says to me.

“Congratulations,” I say. “What do you plan to do?”

“Nothing,” he says. “I’m just going to travel, relax and play golf.”

I’ve had variations of this conversation over the years with colleagues who reached retirement age and wanted to transition into a well-deserved life of leisure. During the years when I myself was not yet eligible to retire, I received the news with great envy. How wonderful to be able to pack it in. No more board of education meetings, budget shortfalls, labor negotiations, angry parents and nights out! Just the promise of one long, extended vacation.

How sweet it is, as Jackie Gleason used to say.

Dan_Domenech.jpgDaniel A. Domenech

As time passed, I would eventually run into my retired friends. The time varied, anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years, but eventually they were back looking for something to do. The time off, the travel and the golf eventually got old and restlessness set in.

Lingering Energies
In most states, 55 is the age when most educators become eligible for retirement. That may seem like a ripe old age when you are 30, but by the time you get there, you still feel like a feisty teenager.

Today’s retiring school administrators are confronted with a wide range of options. Generally, 55 is the age that presents us with exciting opportunities. Retirement is an option, but many of us continue to work. The difference is that we are now eligible to collect a retirement check, putting us in the kind of financially secure position that may allow us to do pretty much whatever it is that we want to do.

If we like what we are doing and where we are doing it, we can opt to stay there, knowing that if conditions change, we can tell the powers that be what they can do with the job. I have friends who have carried this scenario to the point where they are basically working for nothing because they could be collecting as much in retirement as the salary they earn working. But they love what they do and they are happy doing it. They are, in essence, full-time volunteers.

For many administrators, retirement age means that you can retire from the state where you currently work and get a job in a different state while you collect a pension. Some golfing buddies of mine have sought post-retirement opportunities in climates that allow them to pursue their passion year round.

Others take advantage of the opportunities offered by American International Schools or Department of Defense Dependents Schools and relocate to exotic locations around the world.

At one time I thought I would be applying for such a job. While superintendent in Fairfax County, Va., I had the opportunity to serve on the advisory board to the Department of Defense schools and to do some world travel on behalf of the Department of State for their overseas schools. A three- to five-year posting in Europe, South America or Asia seemed like a wonderful adventure. Both agencies always are seeking experienced administrators to fill openings around the world. Check them out if you’re interested.

Options Abound
I was fortunate to have been recruited into the private sector upon my retirement from the superintendency. I confess I always wanted to test my leadership skills in the business world. I was delighted to find a number of my public school colleagues thriving in their post-retirement business careers.

A word of warning about this move. Private-sector opportunities generally tend to involve sales, even when you have administrative and management responsibilities. The world of business is all about generating revenue and profit. Regardless of the position, it generally translates to making sales. Be sure you are comfortable with that before pursuing a career in that sector.

In many regions of the country, interim administrative positions are very much in vogue. Retired administrators are drawn to these jobs because they benefit both the employer and the employee. Many school districts in transition see an interim superintendent as the perfect solution to having the school district in capable hands while a search is conducted for a long-term executive officer. The retired superintendent can get back in the game, but just temporarily. Similar interim positions are also available for other central-office positions like business manager, personnel director or chief academic officer.

Academia is a natural transition for many of us. Once a teacher, always a teacher. How great to have the opportunity to share all that we have learned with aspiring administrators. Today’s leadership development programs take advantage of the experiences of many of our retired colleagues, not just as teachers, but as mentors and coaches. I’d like to see AASA develop a mentoring/coaching program where we can make use of many of our retired school administrators in that capacity.

Those of you contemplating a transition to “retirement” need to consider all of your options. As much as we may think we want to escape, it’s not likely that Type A personalities can stay away for long from the action and the engagement that has been a part of our careers. By all means, take a well-deserved break if that is what you want. But understand that sooner, rather than later, the song of the siren again will fill your ears, and you will be back.

Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org