Challenges of first-time rural superintendents

I’m used to reading about the challenges faced by first-time teachers, and I’ve seen several articles about the challenges faced by first-time principals.

The first article I’ve come across about the challenges of first-time rural school superintendents, however, is Cari L. Wrysinski-Guden’s piece at the School Superintendents Association website.

screen capture shows title and publishing info for article about first-time rural superintendents

The article includes four profiles of four rural Wisconsin superintendents.  It’s well worth reading, and it’s actually readable, not a boring piece with 1,000-word paragraphs full of academic jargon.

Wrysinski-Guden’s first experience as a superintendent was in a 600-student school district in central Wisconsin. She did her doctoral dissertation on the roles and challenges that other first-time rural superintendents had.

A sample from Wrysinski-Guden’s article is this quote from Justin Jerson, who was promoted to superintendent from being high school principal:

Many times [school board members] went to school and graduated from high school, so they’re an expert. I’ve tried, over the years, to inform them, but they’ve lived in the rural town for 60 years and they’ve been involved with the schools since age 5, as a student or a parent or now a board member for 20 years. How can an outsider to our district tell me differently?

 

Flood of school PR opportunities

The Susquehanna River flooded last week on what for many students the first day of the school year. The flooding presented school districts with significant challenges.

Districts did a good job of keeping kids safe and cooperating with emergency services. Several public schools opened as temporary shelters for evacuees.

Schools did a less good job of responding to community concerns.

After a discussion yesterday on Twitter about the fact that many school districts hadn’t posted anything on their websites about whether there would be school today, I did a quick check of website of school districts in the New York State portion of the Susquehanna Valley this morning.

Two superintendents did a superb job of responding to concerns residents had.  Most of the others didn’t do much.

Two superintendents who got it right

Peggy J. Wozniak, superintendent of Binghamton city schools, and Jason Andrews, superintendent of Windsor schools, did an excellent job of coping with the public relations aspects of the crisis.

Wozniak has her bulletins front-and-center of the district homepage, with her photo, her name, and her title. That’s a subtle way of telling people there’s somebody in charge.  She responds to parents’ concerns before they grew into worries. Her messages are:

  • short,
  • specific, and
  • include a timeline when people can expect further information.

That’s A+ work in my book.

Jason Andrews also responded well. He put signed messages on the home page, giving people that important sense of someone at the helm  (though I did have to search to find his job title).  His message is

  • short,
  • specific, and
  • includes a timeline when people can expect further information.

That missing job title, and the update in a PDF  knock him town to A-, but that’s still an impressive performance under the stress of a sudden crisis.

Voters will remember the leaders they could trust in a crisis. Other superintendents would do well to learn a lesson from these two.

Bulletins on school websites

My findings are listed from north, where there was minimal flooding, to south where flooding reached historic levels. [All links were removed 2014-05-10 as none showed the information referenced.]

Cooperstown Central School District. At the source of the Susquehanna, no mention of flooding.

Milford Central School District.  No mention of flooding, which would have been relatively slight.

Oneonta City School District.  No mention of flooding, although parts of the city were flooded.

Unatego Central School District. No mention of flooding, although homes and businesses were flooded in the area.

Sidney Central School District. Homepage sends visitors to Sidneyflood.org, a website that was last updated  Sunday at 12:30 (I’m assuming that’s PM). That page directs people to listen to the radio.

Bainbridge Central School District. Home page notice posted Thursday, Sept. 8 says there is no school on Friday. Nothing has been posted since.

Afton Central School District.  Banner posted Sunday, Sept. 11 said school will be open today.

Harpursville Central School District.  Home page notice posted Sunday, says school will re-open for students Wednesday Sept 14. Faculty and staff  are directed to report today at the regular time bringing their own drinking water and lunch.

Binghamton City School District.  A homepage message posted Sunday saying Binghamton schools will re-open  today. It also says there will be no school for MacArthur Elementary School students, but MacArthur staff were  to report to the West Middle School Auditorium at 8:00 AM.  Plans for the return and interim location for MacArthur students to attend school will be completed tomorrow, Monday, September 12 and will be posted here on the district’s website.

Vestal Central School District. Homepage bulletin posted Sunday at 2:35 PM says Vestal schools are closed today and instructional staff are not required to come in. Administrators and clerical staff are asked to report if it is safe to do so.

Union-Endicott Central School District. A home page notice posted yesterday says all Union-Endicott Schools will be open today except for Ann McGuinness, which is closed because of a road closure. The notice also says the ACT test has been rescheduled.

Maine-Endwell Central School District. A home page notice posted yesterday says the schools will be open today.

Windsor Central School District. A homepage flooding update tells what damage the district had, says the district plans to reopen today, and gives a time frame when people can expect further information.  A .pdf added later gives details of the relocation.

 

Superintendent interview panels meet

This afternoon was the meeting for panelists on teams to interview candidates for the superintendent’s job at Bainbridge-Guilford Central School District.

DCMO BOCES Superintendent William Tammaro began the session by telling us the BG board is interviewing six candidates this week, so we will not have information about the three finalists until next week.

Tammaro also said that he was instructed by the BG board to look for candidates that would come with the intent of staying five to 15 years. He said all six of the people the board is interviewing would come with the expectation of staying five or more years.

Tammaro gave us each packets of information that included a copy of the brochure used to recruit candidates for the job, which, as I reported earlier,  was not available from the school’s website or the BOCES website last week.

The advance memo about the meeting said we’d be given information on questioning techniques. What Tammaro provided was a standard list of questions that are illegal to ask during an interview, which can be downloaded from dozens of places on the web. A couple of people on the panel with me might have been helped by some general suggestions about formulating interview questions.

He said each panel would have “about an hour” to interview candidates. He suggested we leave 10 minutes for a candidate to ask questions. He said he recommended we have 20 questions to fill the rest of the time. All candidates are to be asked the same initial questions, though follow-up questions can vary.

After each candidate interview, each of the five interview panels (teachers, support staff, students, administrative committee, and community members) is to draft an immediate report to the board of education. Although Tammaro did not say so, the report form says the reaction is to  be unanimous. If it is not, a minority report can be attached to the majority report.

Each panel is to present its report in the form of a two-item questionnaire:

  1. What strengths do you believe this candidate has with regard to the Superintendency in Bainbridge-Guilford?
  2. To what extent do you see this candidate “fitting in” to the Superintendent’s position in Bainbridge-Guilford?

The panel of community members is scheduled to meet with candidates from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., and the report must be delivered to the board by 6 p.m. That 30-minute time frame does not permit a particularly thoughtful response, even if the questions were designed to elicit one.

Asking only about a candidate’s strengths strikes me as potentially dangerous.  A candidate may have several strengths that are canceled by serious weaknesses.

Moreover, I’m not sure that “fitting in” is what I want in a school leader. I don’t want someone who is going to make a religion of doing things differently. On the other hand, I don’t want a superintendent to fit in so well she or he disappears in the crowd.

Followers fit in.

People with low expectations fit in.

Superficial thinkers fit in.

Educators who don’t keep on learning fit in.

Administrators who don’t rock the boat fit in.

And folks who bring more than two dozen people to a two-hour meeting to do a handful of tasks that could have been accomplished online in a few minutes fit in best of all.