How to Stay Gracefully

When I took the job of superintendent at Randolph Central in October of 2008, no one thought I would stay here for the rest of my career, including me. My family had bets on it and I heard far too many times in those first years “but what happens when you’re gone?” When opportunity comes knocking, it’s hard to ignore. My mother’s words to me when I first considered if I should stay at Gowanda or apply at Randolph have never left me. She said, “Kimberly, you just have to pick a place and stay there or you’re never going to make the difference that you want to make.”

I’ve since watched school districts open and fill that I would have loved to apply to: Silver Creek and Jamestown, now Frontier and Hamburg, soon my home district of Gowanda. It’s wonderful to talk with someone who’s asking if I’ll consider applying. Boosts my ego a bit and all. My reply remains, “thank you for thinking of me but I’m committed to Randolph. The Board of Education makes a commitment to me every July when they extend my contract for another year. I can’t walk away from them, from my colleagues, or from the goals and the success that we’re realizing.”

The struggle I often have now is that my fourteen years of experience as an administrator, including what I’ve learned here as the superintendent, leave me thinking, “But I know what to do there to make things better!” I stay here because I believe in what we’re doing, in the teams that we’ve worked hard to develop and in our ability to change the world–or this little piece of it called Randolph Central School District. Sounds corny? But it’s true. Most significant to me personally, is that I get to be the kind of superintendent here that I want to be, one who knows our students and teachers and community members. Where else could I have students who want to come in and have lunch with me or talk to me about their problems or visit with me at athletic events?

I read an article yesterday by a veteran superintendent, When and How to Leave Gracefully. The author Art Stellar says,

While typically lacking such public revelations, every superintendent moves on professionally at some point, whether by personal choice or someone else’s. Superintendents are, more often than not, short-term hired hands, migratory workers on a professional level.

I understand that the author’s message is largely about recognizing when it’s time to move on and how to do so well. But his article made me want to write this post, How to Stay Gracefully.  If leading for significant, long lasting school improvement results from building relationships based on trust and mutual respect–then how does that happen when administrators are moving from district to district? According to a recent article in the Buffalo News, search consultant Vincent Coppola indicates there are about ten superintendent openings in NY now and projects another ten openings in January. I suggest that there are ways to stop this trend.

We need stability and commitment in school leadership. I’m not criticizing anyone for pursuing opportunities, I’m suggesting that staying the course is good for a District and for the superintendent. Just like in a marriage worth it’s salt, there are ups and downs–good days and bad. We employ honesty and listening skills and belief in the best intentions of the other person to get through it. Those are the same things we must use as leadership teams, BOE members and School Administrators, to stay the course together for the good of our schools and communities. Because you know what? Just like in a marriage, it’s unlikely that there’s someone or someplace better out there—you just haven’t had the time to figure out the faults or weaknesses of that other superintendent or school district yet.

How do we make a long term superintendency successful? Well for one thing, let’s talk about money. I know, no one who’s making the money wants to talk about it. But honesty and transparency are part of the gig as a public school administrator. Boards have to determine what their goals are–do you want to boast that you have the lowest paid administrators in three counties? Or do you want to secure a superintendent at a competitive salary so that she doesn’t have to pay attention to every opening in every neighboring district? Our School BOE did just that, without my request, three years ago. And while my good intentions, my mother’s words, and my plan to make a difference influence my thinking to stay here–let’s be honest. I would be considering other positions if I knew I would make much more money elsewhere–that’s what most people would do given the opportunity in any field.

Remember too that a superintendent is not awarded tenure and is accountable to the School Board, the community, the faculty and staff and the students on a daily basis–Districts aren’t tied to a superintendent who isn’t doing the job by a lengthy dismissal process. BUT, communities should view it as a long term commitment and once you realize you have someone who’s communicating with you honestly and listening to your elected School BOE while making good decisions for the District, you should pay a competitive salary to keep that person. The work of a school superintendent isn’t going to change drastically from one school to another.

Please talk openly and honestly with us about our shortcomings. I watched someone lose her job in my first year as an administrator, seemingly without warning, and I thought then, “that needs to never be me!” I need to be aware, to listen, and to improve my performance continually. As a school BOE don’t leave us to wonder what you’re unhappy with or where we’re falling short. Give us the opportunity to improve. Communication, honesty, commitment and relationships? Sounds much better than a revolving door of rookie administrators.

  1. My father always felt like that and it is refreshing for someone to say the same thing I heard him say many times. He stayed as Superintendent and Principal for 31 years in the same district. At least twice he considered moving and had good opportunities. We as hid family vetoed one move but he came to believe that it was best to stay long term if you really wanted to make lasting change.

  2. Well said. We are happy with your performance here at RCS. We are still striving to be the best school Distrct not only in sports but in academics as well. We have made great gains but there is still room for us to grow even better. With your continued direction I feel we are on the right road and excellence is at the end of the tunnel, we can see it now!!!

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