Nov 7, 2016 by

The average big-city schools superintendent quits their prestigious and lucrative position after three years, according to the Associated Press.

It it because they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders?  Is it the crushing responsibility and loneliness of power?

I don’t think so.

They are not air-traffic controllers, who do double tours of duty watching blips on a screen, each one of which represents hundreds of lives above the clouds, and making split-second judgements so that there is no holocaust in the air.

Neither are they National Guardsmen, tricked into becoming “weekend warrior” to then be deployed overseas for a hundred weekends guarding an encampment against a midnight Taliban raid.

And they are not ER personnel frantically trying to countermand the course of Nature to save a patient with a 100 percent blockage of the left anterior.

Superintendents are just plain folks. Caressed by ego and the alluring voice of ambition, they move on and leave broken rubrics in their wake.

Generally, the higher one’s perch in the pecking order of education bureaucracy, the lower the stress of being held accountable and the sweeter the bailout. A teacher seeking relief from anxiety would be well-advised to ditch the Klonopin and apply for a post as superintendent.

In fairness, there are different breeds of superintendents, just as there are of dogs. In New York City, most of the newer superintendents are millennials with very limited and not particularly distinguished teaching and supervisory experience. Rarely are they scholars or experts who are conversant in genuine education research and history.

Not uncommonly they are gold-diggers, adept at networking, fluent in fashionable jargon, acolytes of the latest fallacies who, though appointed by non-politicians, are picked out of political motives.

Their grandparents, though, are proud of them. In some cases, their great-grandparents.

I’m being a bit harsh on superintendents. There are plenty of them across the country who rise above the implicit negativity of what their job has become. It takes courage. If they buck a mayor, or school board or an influential power-broker, their career can be on the chopping block and their house on the auction block.

With this in my mind, they may have to find some clandestine way for their honor to be expressed. They will not be demeaned by obedience to practices that violate their integrity. They have the dignity of the profession and its practitioners at heart not because they are superintendents but despite their being one.

Superintendents nationwide make around $250,000 in salary, not counting above-board benefits and unspecified common-law perks. According to Henry Duvall, of the Council of the Great City Schools, superintendents aren’t in it for the money. If you believe that, I’d like to sell you a nice chalet on the sun in the shade.

The Associated Press quotes a Connecticut superintendent who, despite being supported by the mayor and the teachers union, couldn’t endure the “public and political nature” of it. No doubt there’s many more like him. They are high-minded, not high-handed.

They are nauseated by the politicization and polarization of education. They want students to be safe, learn legitimate curriculum, graduate, emerge from poverty, and have a fair shot at the comforts of life. They want taxpayer assets to be dedicated to that goal, instead of being squandered  on consultants and salesmen of snake-oil education “reforms”.

And they want teachers to be reasonably free to experiment with curriculum, styles and teaching styles, as long as they work.

The Associated Press’s spotlight on superintendents as short-term office-holders shouldn’t concern us very much. The blessing of their leadership is overrated, in most cases. They are relatively replaceable.

It is the teachers whose length of service is a bellwether of the destiny of public education. A generation ago, they typically clung tenaciously to their classrooms for 20-40 years before retiring.  Not because they weren’t eligible for social security, but because they loved the job.

Now, a huge percentage of teachers are disillusioned and flee within a few years. Much of their despair is the handicap of superintendents or their henchmen, doing their jobs as now defined.  Their mass flight is what should give us pause. And make us panic.

If most superintendents were parachuted over an island in the Pacific to search for Amelia Earhart, few would notice. But if a single teacher gives up after three years, after being unjustly denied tenure or for some other spurious pretext, that loss is a laceration on the psyche of many students.

Scoop that, Associated Press!

Ron Isaac


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.