Why Do We Need An Assistant Superintendent?

Because my position of assistant superintendent is newly created and it’s one that had only a week’s worth of discussion at the BOE, there has been some subsequent discussion in the community about it. While many have been congratulatory, I can’t ignore the concerns of some of my neighbors. In my experience, any time a district decides to spend money on an administrative position, taxpayers and personnel have the right to question why it is needed.

I understand this and asked our BOE about this very thing during our discussions. After all, I am a significant taxpayer in our district as well, both through our own home and through our rental property and my husband’s business. I pay attention to the way we spend the district’s money as much as anyone in our community.

I’ve seriously thought about trying to do both jobs, assistant superintendent and high school principal. If I wasn’t already working at least a ten hour day, and a couple of times per week, a 12-14 hour day, I would consider it. It’s honestly that I just can’t possibly imagine giving serious attention to K-12 instructional improvement while managing the day to day business of the high school. If I could, I would.

I also understand clearly that this position is designed as a direct intervention to our improving, but still poor, results in student achievement and in ranking on Business First. I understand that it will be my primary responsibility to do something significant about student achievement gains, to research and then design an improvement plan to move our district forward, thus benefiting every student.

Answering “why do we need an assistant superintendent?” leads me to do the same kind of research and comparison that we do in every other instance, what are other districts doing in regard to leadership designed to focus on instructional improvement? What, specifically, are those districts that we look to on every other measure doing better than we are in dedicating staff? Do they have someone in a similar position to the one created at Gowanda?

In Silver Creek, David O’Rourke leads through the Office of Instruction and Technology. While David does not possess the title of assistant superintendent, he functions as an assistant superintendent does.

In Iroquois, Robin Zymroz leads as an assistant superintendent and another administrator is responsible for instruction, student services, and assessment.

In Lakeshore, they’ve had an assistant superintendent for instruction for many years and in Akron, Sue Kovic is an instructional leader as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction. I’m not even mentioning all of our neighbors to the north who have these administrative positions and many more. I’ll just stick to the four districts above that I routinely look to for their ideas, programs and results.

With the governor dedicating increased aide, especially in the amount that’s been dedicated to Gowanda, we cannot ignore the significance of our leadership dedicated to instructional improvement. Yes, as a principal, I worked hard on this very thing. But as a principal, managing the needs of our students, parents and teachers is a full time job. In my opinion, my focus on instructional improvement, despite the significant changes we’ve made, has never been sufficient.  

We simply need more work in this area if we truly dedicate ourselves to gains in student achievement. If we’re going to compare ourselves to more successful districts, as we should, we can’t just scratch our heads and wail about why we’re not doing as well as they are. We have to also ask, “what are they doing that we’re not?”

I’ve been doing that for three years for the high school and the result has been increased electives, honors classes, a revised bell schedule to optimize instructional time, the elimination of ineffective curriculum and the addition of staff in remedial services, the addition of our summer school at no cost to our families, the revision of our AIS program, a culture of literacy initiative, positive programs for students, and a coordinated focus on instructional improvement and increased achievement on the Regents exams plus a drop out prevention study.

Asking questions and identifying improvements. Focusing on the results we’re getting and figuring out what we can do better. Addressing the tough issues in a compassionate, to the point manner. This is my strong suit. This is why the assistant superintendent position allows me to help our district move in a more significant way than I can as a high school principal.

What’s that definition of insanity I’ve heard before? To keep doing the same thing over and over, in the same way, expecting a different result.

We have the money now, thank you Governor Spitzer, we’re adding this position with a zero increase to taxes and we bring in a new high school principal which adds brain power to our team. Makes sense to me.

I’m game, let’s get to it.

Next Steps

We’re camping this weekend and that always provides me with lots of time to read, reflect and think. As I’m reading everything from education journals to women’s magazines, I’m thinking a lot about my new role at Gowanda. Officially, I start July 1 and even then, it’ll probably take us the summer to hire my replacement so it’ll be a while before I make the transition completely. But my planning and research are already taking on new meaning. I woke up this morning thinking about the need to form relationships with our K-8 faculty and staff, the best way to go about that, and how to build trust.

I’m also conscious of the fact that it’s a new position which hasn’t yet been defined clearly so we have to go through the growing pains of helping everyone, including me, understand the parameters of my role. The more I think about the possibilities ahead, the more excited I become.

I wonder if everyone goes through the growing pains that I’ve been going through in these past few weeks, making a decision and then wondering if I can do it. My husband says I’ve gone through this and said these same things every time I’ve accepted a new position. He says, “every time Kim, you’re the only one who thinks you can’t do it.”

He’s right and I’m done worrying about whether or not I’ve had enough education, training, or experience to take the next step. I’ll use the same skills that have carried me through every other position I’ve had coupled with the “wisdom” of getting older and the interest to always learn more. I’m moving forward with confidence and excitement about the next step. I imagine that most leaders walk forward exhibiting unfailing confidence in themselves. That’s just not me. Hopefully, my combination of moxie and vulnerability will serve me well. I wasn’t the “stereotypical” principal so I doubt I’ll be the stereotypical superintendent either. I’ve  learned from some incredible leaders like Lucinda Miner, Deb Ormsby, Sandra Craft, and Charles Rinaldi–what better training is there than that?

What Makes A Success Story?

On July 1, I’ll have to change the header at the top of this blog to say “Kimberly Moritz, Assistant Superintendent, talks about school management, student achievement, and life in G-Town.”

I’ve been advised that the other opportunity (yesterday’s blog post) may have been the smarter move as far as finding professional “success”, that it may have been easier. But I also know that the smart move didn’t feel like the right move.

It seemed like I’d be saying to everyone here that it was just too hard, that I couldn’t be sure we’d improve, so I figured I’d go where the grass was greener. Where would that leave our students, faculty, staff– our community?

I feel responsible for this district, in a way I’ve not felt before in any other administrative position. Who would lead here if I left? I’m sure someone would come, it’s not that I think I’m irreplaceable. I know there are other good administrators, I work with two principals and a superintendent who are as good as it gets. I’m invested in G-Town in a way that I just don’t think others would invest, long term and as a new superintendent.

Our superintendent writes on his new blog about the addition of an assistant superintendent and the rationale behind it. I won’t duplicate the reasons behind this move as they’ve already been outlined by Mr. Rinaldi and the BOE.

I’m happy to have the opportunity to continue to serve Gowanda and I am convinced that our hard work, optimism, research, and instructional improvements will result in the best education for our children. I won’t disappoint those who have placed their confidence and faith in me.

During my decision making process, Lisa, my dear friend and college roommate asked me, “when have you ever shied away from ‘harder’ Kim?” She’s right, I’ve always looked for the more challenging path, it’s what motivates me. So maybe my success will be defined by helping Gowanda become the best district it can be for all of our children. I know that’s not an easy task and that I have much to learn. But this is my community, these are the best teachers, support staff, administrators and BOE I’ve ever known, and I believe we can do it. Make Gowanda a success for every student.

I can’t think of any better success story than that one.

Making the Right Career Move

Imagine you have a decision to make. You can either stay in your current job as a high school principal, one in which you find yourself happy and successful or you can move to a new job as a superintendent, accepting new challenges and learning an entirely new position.

Now let’s complicate the decision even more. Let’s say you conclude that moving up to a superintendency is the right choice. You’re then faced with the opportunity of a superintendency in a neighboring district or an assistant superintendency in the district in which you are currently employed.

Superintendency in Neighboring District? This is a successful school district in which you’ve worked before, you know the community and the staff and you feel extremely comfortable. You know with as much certainty as anyone can have that you’ll be successful there. Excellent business manager, healthy budget, great tech personnel, good administrators, fantastic kids and community, good BOE support. You receive an overwhelming number of requests to return and it’s a district you loved working in.

Assistant Superintendency in Current District? This is a tougher district in which change is beginning to occur due to numerous initiatives in which you’ve been involved along with others interested in improvement. Still some tough challenges ahead though. Great administrative team, business manager will be a new hire, supportive superintendent who’s willing to teach you as long as he stays (with the opportunity of a superintendency when he moves on or retires), outstanding BOE support, very healthy budget, terrific kids and community–plus their yours because you reside in this community. You’re four miles from home and you came here to make a difference when you believed no one else would come. You came to this district as a high school principal to improve instruction and climate for everyone. You love coming to work here every day.Your son is here and it’s tough on him, you being here. He thinks he could be more “normal” if you go. You worry that his school won’t be as good if you go and you hope that through your loving, strong parenting, along with your husband and family, that you can overcome any difficulties he experiences as the “administrator’s kid”. You find yourself arguing with anyone who advises you to take the other job because it’s the smart career move.  

Which job do you choose? While the blog was down, I made the choice–I’m just wondering what you would have done. What readers would have advised me to do, had I been able to write about this.

Teaching to Leading

My husband and I attended a retirement party this weekend. Two teachers from Randolph, a neighboring district where I was previously high school principal, were honored at a dinner.As is typical at a retirement party, colleagues, family and friends came forward to speak for each of our retirees. Their comments were heart felt, touching and funny. Pat and Carol, the retirees, also spoke with great affection about their careers and their friends.

I attended the dinner because Carol drove to my school and then to my house to be sure I would be there. Why? Because Carol’s all about the people in her life and so is Pat, an extremely successful teacher and coach.

Attending the dinner and listening to the comments about Carol and Pat got me to thinking about this job that I do now. As an administrator, there are many tasks and responsibilities that I have. Many days, they are too numerous to complete. But the primary responsibility that I have as an administrator is not unlike that of a teacher.

When I was teaching, I spent 99% of my time thinking about my students. Their unique needs and personalities, their learning styles and abilities. I thought about what I could do in my lessons to reach each of them. I built relationships. I asked them questions. I got to know each of them, as much as each would let me in.

Last night I was thinking a lot about what makes a principal or superintendent successful. I thought about all of the specific knowledge that our superintendents possess about finance, capital projects, the political scene in Albany, and school law. I thought about all of the superintendents I’ve worked for and known.

And that’s when I realized that the best superintendents are the same as the best teachers. There are teachers who have incredible depth of content knowledge but don’t ever stop teaching the content and start teaching the students. Likewise there are administrators who don’t ever figure out the leading the faculty and staff piece, they just keep managing their work.

When I am a superintendent some day, I will spend 99% of my time thinking about my BOE members, faculty and staff. Their unique needs and personalities, their learning styles and abilities. I will think about what I can do in my interactions to reach each of them. I will build relationships. I will ask them questions. And I will get to know each of them, as much as each will let me in.

Who Needed Me Anyway?

I woke up this morning sick, tried to get ready for work, and wound up staying home sleeping the day away. This happens to me rarely, maybe once or twice per year. I’m feeling better now and thought I’d log on to read all of my email from school for the day.

I realize how terrific it is to have a great team in G-Town. I don’t feel worried that things went wrong without me there today because I have a team who I can count on. I know, unequivocably, that our main office and guidance staff would have handled anything that came along.

Without a doubt, our Dean of Students and Guidance Director will have handled any student, teacher or parent concerns. And our secretaries running the main office will have either answered questions and problem solved themselves or funneled anyone who needed anything to the right place.

It’s an effective and pleasant place to work where everyone has a stake in our success. Staying home today reminded me how much I count on all of you. Thank you for doing the job and much more, every single day in G-Town.

Success and Productivity

Okay gentlemen, I’m pretty sure that Kelly, Chris, and Brian have all tagged me in a meme within the last couple of insane weeks. I’m not sure I have an exclusive on the 7 Secrets to Success meme, but lately, I’ve been thinking the secret to success lies in being genuine, a bona fide original, whatever that might be.

For most of my teenage and adult life I’ve been trying to correct some behaviors that have suddenly seemed much more like assets than liabilities. Every time I’ve ever written down goals over my entire life time, there’s been something in there about keeping quiet, not speaking my mind all of the time, being less direct, more subtle. Keeping my mouth shut. 

It’s as if, at 43, all of the things I’ve been trying to fix about myself are suddenly the things that get noticed, in a positive way. Who knew?

To this day, I’ll enter a meeting, like the Regional Forum on Native American drop out rates this week, and I’ll swear to myself that I’m going to keep quiet, play it safe, listen, let others take the lead. I don’t think I’ve ever lasted more than twenty minutes. Honestly. Impossible.

I’ve endeavored to be “more professional” like other administrators, tried to be more of a “suit”. I’ve worried that I’ll never make a good superintendent because I’ll never be able to play the political game.

So 7 Secrets to Success for me? I guess just being myself, finding a great fit, and getting old enough that the smart mouth I had as a teenager has developed into what’s now termed a strong voice. Nice.

And the productivity meme? I have the most kick butt secretary in the world who’s really my partner, she’s the secret to my productivity. Sue and my compulsion to clear my desk, my emails and my voice mails before leaving every day. Starting the next day fresh is the only way I can keep my brain clear–that’s how I stay productive. And blogging, getting thoughts onto this blog and out of my head. And forget the random facts meme, I’ve got too much going on to even fathom that one. Maybe in July, when I’m more productive. 

Let’s Talk About That

May is the most unbelievable month (have I written that in other months?) because of a number of end of the year events, along with planning for next year, and the added pressure of getting all 125 seniors to graduation, with 38 facing some additional challenge and some who are melting down under the pressure that they feel even more than we do.

I literally spend all of my time thinking about what we do every day, researching ideas and programs, and looking at alternatives. Today, in a day so busy I could barely complete an idea in a full sentence, two of our counselors and I talked about alternatives for kids including a vision that we came to term “night school”. Not the same as our “day” school, but a significantly different idea of credits and requirements and time and preparation for the Regents exams.

But the purpose of this post is really to talk about those counselors, Beth and Jennifer. And my superintendent. And my colleague at Silver Creek, David. And the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction at BOCES, Colleen. And the Assistant Superintendent from Niagara Wheatfield, Bob,  whom I met yesterday and who emailed me today. And the encouraging readers of G-Town who take the time to comment.

I want to take a moment to recognize how absolutely vital these people are in my life. As I seek out information as answers, as I try out ideas, as I problem solve and dream, I positively need these people in my professional life to think through ideas with, to offer encouragement, but most of all, to entertain the ideas with me. To walk down the path, to think and listen and learn and discuss. To imagine the possibilities.

There is enough discussion of the barriers, of the reasons why the system is the way it is, of the desire to stay in the status quo, that I am immeasurably grateful for everyone who is willing to step off the ideological ledge with me and at least ask the questions about why we do things the way we do and how they can be better. Thank you, colleagues, for the connections and the discussions, for not saying “no, it can’t be done”. You energize me with your efforts.

G-Town Superintendent Responds to Blog Challenge

In response to my recent blog post challenging our superintendent to enter the conversation with his own blog, Superintendent Rinaldi responds,

I knew it would eventually come to this.  Knowing Kim Moritz as I do, I insisted she include the disclaimer “opinions expressed here reflect the personal views of Kimberly Moritz and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Gowanda Central School District” in her banner.  True to form, she challenges all of us, sometimes when we would prefer to be left alone.  But, now that she has laid down the gauntlet a response is in order.

It is not coincidental that after reading the blog feature in Education Week, I began to envision the benefits of using blogs to spread the superintendent’s message.  But I also learned from the article that blogging is rife with problems.  Would I have to censor comments to avoid salacious or false claims?  If I do censor comments, am I then open to ridicule for not allowing critics to rebut my arguments?  Do I want to debate on-line with disaffected residents who believe our school system is ineffective and taxes are too high?  Do I have a legitimate “voice” and who in the heck wants to read what I have to say?  Where do I find the time in a life already bereft of private moments?  Why invite problems into my life when problem-solving already dominates my work day?  How do I avoid having my opinions associated with the School Board? 

I already am on public television two times a month or more expressing management’s views during board meetings and public hearings.  Each month I write an article for the school newsletter.  I attend school events and am a frequent speaker in the community.  I am not convinced Gowanda needs more of me or that I could do justice to this medium.  Someone needs to convince me there is a legitimate audience for my comments. 

So here’s what I’m thinking now, maybe a “guest column” on G-Town Talks once per month?


I’ve been an administrator in my home district for three years now and 99% of the time I find it to be a huge advantage. It’s been my sense that it actually provides me with a bit more credibility, sort of a “she’s one of us” boost. Since I’m going to work every day trying to make a difference, it’s extremely rewarding to me that it also benefits my own kid, along with my nephews and niece, and  the children of my friends. G-Town means a lot to me and if I succeed or fail professionally, in many ways, it’s my personal success or failure as well.

Today I sat in a meeting with four parents and two teachers. I was there as the principal but the situation we were discussing also involved my son and my nephews. It involved my sister in law, two other moms I’ve known for many years, and one mom I’ve not met before. It involved two teachers whom I hold in very high regard.

I’ve mediated parent/teacher conversations many times. Some have been extremely heated and I’ve always walked away feeling like I’d done a good job. I’ve tried hard to make sure everyone was heard, that they were treated fairly, that all parties could feel supported by me, even if they weren’t happy with the decision.

Today was different in that it was impossible for me to stay in either the role of principal or parent. The two roles converged and as objective as I was, it was a tough place to sit.  It also was a complicated situation in which there was no easy solution. I’ve always thought that my strong personal investment in our school and our kids was an asset. Today it felt more like a liability and I’m left wondering if anyone felt supported by me.

I understood the parent point of view and the deep emotion that comes with raising a child and the commitment to always advocate for our kids, at the same time that we kick them in the butt when needed. I’ve lived the teacher’s point of view and I know with 100% certainty, that while we make mistakes, we are most often well intended.

As the principal, it was hard to sit squarely in the middle. I kept thinking about fairness, support, integrity, honesty–I hope those things carried me through that meeting today and that everyone left better for our time spent talking.