Posted Date: 05/20/2022
This is the time of the year that we get misty-eyed, reminiscing on what was and feeling a little uneasy about how it may never be that way again. The Silver Lake Eagles of this world are likely reflecting on nearly five decades of their C.J. Hamilton football dynasty and wondering what lies ahead for them. Parents of graduating seniors watch their babies walk across the stage and try not to dwell on how quiet their house will be next year. Those high school senior angels are, unbeknownst to high school administration, sneaking the version of Green Day's Good Riddance onto the graduation playlist that includes the four-letter F word at the beginning. No? Was that just my class? Well, you get the idea.
The point is that transitions can be complicated. Change is hard, and growth, while rewarding in the long run, can take a tortured path. Nearly a quarter of our districts will have a new superintendent of schools next year, and many of you also had to replace your beloved board clerk in the last few years. Replacing that institutional memory and building new relationships can be challenging. But you will, and someday you will look back on this next year with those same misty eyes and wish it could be that good again.
Dr. Jordan and Mark Tallman have a knack for being able to cite scholarly works they have read and quoting great philosophers to drive home their points, so I am going to take a page out of their book. Therefore, I would like to call upon the collective wisdom of three gentlemen scholars to help me bring this blog home: Ferris Beuller, Mitch Hedberg, and Van Wilder. Buckle up. This could get bumpy.
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." — Ferris Bueller from Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
If we spend our lives looking in the rearview mirror, we will miss remarkable things. As a board member, this is especially important for you. You set the goals for the district in moving forward. When we do board development, we like to remind our members that it is the board that determines the "what" and the role of your chief administrator to determine the "how." Suppose you all are so stuck in the past that you do not set performance targets for the administration. In that case, it becomes exceedingly complicated for your leadership to move forward in the desired direction.
"A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer." – Comedian Mitch Hedberg.
Well, that got ugly in a hurry! To misquote Pepper Brooks of ESPN The Ocho [Dodgeball (2004)], "It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for" her.
When you have had a great leader, the impulse in recruiting the next one is often looking for the same bundle of traits in a candidate as possessed by the superintendent that just left. Although a severed foot would perfectly fit into the open void of an empty stocking, it does not mean that it is necessarily the gift that anyone wants or needs. Part of the beauty of conducting listening tours with your stakeholders and setting long-term goals for your district is getting a framework for where you are headed and how you will have to get there. It could be that taking a new direction requires a leader with different skills and experiences. And, while going right back in with what you had is often the more comfortable choice, it may not be the right one.
"An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. You should never see an Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order sign, just Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience." – Comedian Mitch Hedberg
When given a choice between taking the escalator and the stairs, I will take the escalator one hundred percent of the time. In my defense, I am lazy with a preference for instant gratification.
Do you remember when I mentioned that the board determines the "what" and the superintendent determines the "how"? Keep this in mind as you watch this new leader navigate the course your board has charted for them. Different people have dissimilar priorities and may allocate available resources in unusual ways to be able to do more with less. This does not necessarily mean this person is doing something wrong. An escalator that is not hooked up to power just becomes stairs. It will still get everyone where they need to go. It's just that this electricity can now be used to power something else without costing the district more money. I encourage you to have faith, trust the process, seek information, and provide input on this person's progress toward board goals as they find the best way to lead the district.
"Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it doesn't get you anywhere." -- Van Wilder from National Lampoon's Van Wilder (2002)
This is one of my mantras. Imagine if we could get back all the time and energy we waste in worrying, dwelling on the past, and visualizing the many ways a situation could turn into a complete dumpster fire. There are so many better uses for our time!
Please be advised that I am an attorney, and much of my work life is devoted to trying to forecast the result of and advise members upon the consequences of any action or inaction they choose. So, note that I am not asking you to be brash or reckless in your decision-making. However, once the decision is made, nothing is to be gained by investing time in fretting about the result of that decision or micromanaging while the leadership tries to put a plan into action.
The hay is in the barn. Do as Ferris directs. Get out there and live your life, look around, and take in the sights. After all, you deserve it. You have sacrificed your spare time to be a public servant because you care. You want what is best for the students in your district. You want to keep good people working in your schools and living in your community, and you want these graduates to leave their K-12 experience with the tools they need to go on and be successful in school, work, and life. Sometimes this role can be thankless, but that does not mean it is without reward. Take the time as this school year comes to a close to observe your board's impact on your district, these kids, and your community. However, once you have had the opportunity to marinate in the shared success, let us look ahead to what is next. Because if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you may miss something.