Spotlight

Missing the ‘Joy and Fun’ of the Superintendency

by MARK A. EDWARDS

In 2004, after serving 12 years as a superintendent in two Virginia school systems, I left to become a dean of education at the University of North Alabama. I truly thought my superintendent days were over.

After a couple years as a dean, I jumped into the corporate world as a vice president at Harcourt Assessment. In that role, I found myself on an airplane continually. After a year of the corporate lifestyle, I started thinking about a return to the superintendent arena.

That’s when I returned to my chosen profession — as superintendent of the Mooresville Graded School District, just north of Charlotte, N.C. Mooresville, with 5,600 students, was a big change from Henrico County, Va., which had a student population of 45,000 by the end of my 10 years there.

Why did I return to a job that demanded 24/7 attention? I was drawn back because I truly enjoyed the work. This is a venue where I had success and great satisfaction previously, a job that connected me with families. In higher education and the corporate sector, I missed the level of action, the ability to make efficient decisions and the fulfilling opportunities to make a difference in young people’s lives. Simply, I missed the joy and fun of school work.

Special Moments
I am now in my 14th year as a superintendent, midway through my second year in Mooresville, and in my 29th year in a school administrative role, and I can say I truly love this work. As I reflect on some of the joyous experiences I have had as a superintendent, a few in particular come to mind.

My wife and I have three children, and both of our daughters were in an all-county chorus during their elementary school years. I remember attending a concert and being so proud of them and realizing I also was proud of the quality of the chorus and our entire music program. I recall the joy of that experience — my daughters participating in a top-notch program — and I smile every time I think about it. I also remember the special experience of being on stage when my oldest daughter received her high school diploma. The great feelings, as a parent and as an educator, of seeing your children prosper are priceless, and knowing that, as a superintendent, you had a little something to do with it makes it all the more special.

Sometimes the very nature of spontaneous kid stuff is just plain fun, as well. During a school visit once, I checked into the office to tell the staff I would be stopping into classes to say hello. I had been in several classrooms and then moved to a few modular units behind the school. I was talking to the teacher and some students when a little boy excitedly pushed the classroom door open and yelled out, “Pass the word, the superintendent is coming around … get ready!” We all burst out laughing.

One of my most heart-touching experiences helps to explain the joy of being part of a school district culture. I was driving back to Richmond, Va., from Washington, D.C., when our district’s testing director called to share our student test results from the Virginia accountability program. As she went over the results, it was wonderful to learn that our most challenged/urban high school (Henrico High School) had achieved “full accreditation.” At that time, it was the first challenged/urban high school in the state to do so.

I called the principal, Bill Parker, to share the news, and he got choked up but invited me to stop at the school on my way back into town to announce the results to the faculty. I will never forget the spontaneous celebration that erupted on the sidewalks. Students were jumping up and down and high-fiving teachers. Teachers and students were crying and hugging each other. “Warrior Pride” was belted out by the crowd. One of the custodial staff, appropriately nicknamed “Rock,” gave me a bearhug and said, “I knew we could do it.”

I still get choked up when I think about that day, but having been just a small part of the work of that great school team and experiencing the raw joy of that moment are things I will cherish the rest of my life.

Ready for More
I’ve had plenty of tough times as a superintendent, but it’s the real joys that lend a special quality to the work. Being a part of your children’s experiences brings a great personal joy.

In the field of education, you have opportunities of the everyday life and laughter associated with children. When teachers, administrators, students and communities work together to achieve great things, the joy that accompanies it is one of the best benefits of the job. Now that I’m back on the job as a superintendent, I look forward to many such moments.

I had one this fall, standing beside our son Luke, 8, as he got on the bus headed for day one of 3rd grade at his new school. He turned to me and said, “Don’t worry, Dad, I’m ready.”

He is … and so am I.

Mark Edwards is superintendent of the Mooresville Graded School District in Mooresville, N.C. E-mail: medwards@mgsd.k12.nc.us