Mistakes Superintendents Make
by Bob Thompson
Adapted from the Iowa Association of School Administrators
Want to keep out of trouble? Here are the top items which have put superintendents’ jobs in jeopardy over past years.
- Tolerating weak principals. A weak principal or other assistant administrator consistently passes the buck to you, and consistently makes embarrassing decisions and actions. Terminate, don’t tolerate!
- Tolerating team wreckers. Often, especially when going to a new job, there are people in the district (especially in the central office) who will try to undercut you or others on your staff. Such behavior should not be tolerated. Do not provide an office and a salary to someone to sit down the hall and take pot shots or be less that fully supportive of the team. Such behavior rips the team apart and causes a loss of credibility in the community. Fire them! If you can’t fire them, move them to the bus barn! If the board blocks you, announce you will be leaving at the end of your contract and get another job. Life is too short.
- Shaky grasp of the operation. You’ve got to be knowledgeable and give leadership in all areas of your school’s operations (e.g. budget and finance, curriculum, personnel relations, academic achievement, looming problems, etc.). Delegate, but insure that they keep you informed. If you don’t know, they’ll find you out!
- Indecisiveness. The superintendent who agonizes over decisions, waivers and backtracks soon loses the respect of staff, board, and community. There finally comes a time when you must decide and act. Don’t act precipitously, but when you act, be decisive!
- Unapproachable. If they don’t know you, chances are they won’t like you. Your smiling face and constantly reassuring presences are your best selling points. Say hello to everybody on the street. Shop locally whenever possible. Join service clubs. Keep the office door open as much as possible and be out and around in the schools and in the community. Go out of your way to speak to custodians, cooks and other auxiliary personnel when you see them at work and make regular visits to the bus barn and buildings and grounds department when the employees are most likely to be there.
- Partiality. Don’t play favorites. Don’t have pets. Be open and equally fair to everybody. The person who is shunned or discriminated against will find a way to get back at you!
- Gossiping. Never talk about anybody, except in the most glowing terms to anyone. Any backstabs you make will return to haunt you!
- Bluffing. It’s no disgrace to say “I don’t know.” Once you get caught bluffing your credibility rating goes to zilch and usually stays there.
- Blind to the handwriting on the wall. The first impulse of the administrator in adversity is to close him/herself in, insulate out the bad news, and associate only with supportive friends. To get out of trouble, you’ve got to circulate, read the bad news between the lines, seek feedback (especially if its negative), get help, and then respond appropriately and positively.
- Millstone family. The spouse who is disliked in the community, the son who is on drugs, the daughter on the streets can lose you your job –indirectly, of course.
- Nepotism. A family member or relative who works for you in the same system is always a potentially vulnerable mark. Don’t hire family members, especially your spouse!
- Mixing school and personal business. Buying personal products through school suppliers or from the school, hiring the woodworking student who needs a project to make you something, or having your car tuned in the auto shop class will make you trouble. Trade outside, even if it is more inconvenient.
- Off-color language or jokes. Don’t tell off-color or sexually oriented jokes or make suggestive remarks to employees, whether men or women. This is professional suicide.
- High living. Don’t have affairs, get drunk at the country club, or drive a bigger car than the banker. In the eyes of your community, a playboy image is not befitting the superintendent.
- Sloppy personal affairs. An overdrawn bank account, a broken-down sofa on the front porch, or other such behavior can tarnish your image. Keep things neat, personally, financially, and physically.
- Becoming close friends with individual board members. A cozy relationship with one or more board members causes other board members to think they are being left out of the loop. It can come back to haunt you.
- Avoiding contact with a problem board member. There is a tendency to pull back from people who oppose or dislike you. There is an old adage that says “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” or, in a more colloquial vernacular “learn to hug a prickly pear”. Make it a point to be around problem board members often, be friendly, and talk mostly about non-board issues (e.g. his/her family, athletic teams, how his/her business is going, etc.). Most of the time they will come around, but it takes months.