Our Futures Depend on Our Sharing

Type: Article
Topics: Rural Communities, School Administrator Magazine

October 01, 2018

Ben Petty serves as the superintendent of two multiple-community school districts in central Iowa, both with about 500 students.
Ben Petty serves as the superintendent of two multiple-community school districts in central Iowa, both with about 500 students.

Before becoming a shared superintendent, I had a chance to watch my predecessor on the job, as I previously worked as the high school principal in one of the two multiple-community school districts. This gave me a sense of some of the challenges and opportunities a shared leadership role can create.

Being a shared superintendent obviously means you cannot devote your full time and energy to one school district, but it has led to other beneficial sharing and cost-saving opportunities.

Both of my rural districts, which border one another in central Iowa, have seen resident population decline over the past decade as people migrate from rural to more urban and suburban parts of the state. This is true of many rural communities across our state. Even so, our rural schools can remain strong and vibrant, but that likely will mean seeking out greater efficiencies and sharing opportunities to maintain and even expand opportunities for students and staff members.

Across Borders
When I became the shared superintendent at what are known in shorthand form in Iowa as BCLUW and GMG, neither district had an elementary counselor. Both districts have K-12 enrollment of slightly more than 500 students. It may have been a financial challenge for each to have its own elementary counselor, but the need certainly existed for these services for our students. Through planning with the principals and boards of each district, we forged a sharing agreement for the position, resulting in a school counselor currently working half-time in each elementary school.

Arrangements of this nature are easier to pull off when I’m already working closely with those involved in both districts as opposed to setting up a shared program or service with a school district whose administration and school board members I may not know.

The leadership teams in both of my districts get together each summer before the school year starts to share ideas for upcoming professional learning, to bounce ideas off each other and to talk about what is working in our districts. We also recently had a staff member become a certified trainer in nonviolent crisis intervention and plan to coordinate our calendars to have staff from both districts receive this training.

Shared Underwriting
Cost sharing between the two districts has allowed us to host some nationally renowned presenters. This fall, we are set to convene the combined teaching staffs for a day of learning with Rick Wormeli, a national consultant and one of the country’s first nationally board-certified teachers. He will present a workshop on assessments and grading.

Funding these opportunities in each district alone would stretch thin our professional development funds. Doing so together allows each district to preserve some of those funds for other professional learning throughout the school year.