Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Why Superintendents Don't Punch a Time Clock

There is no simple formula for becoming an effective superintendent of schools and the turnover rate reflects the difficulty of the position. Some folks say that the job cannot be done well due to politics, financial constraints, and time demands.

The superintendent of schools is a crucial and influential position but one that is not well-understood. This stems from its history. Rarely has a position of such importance grown in such a tangled way.

In the schools of my youth (think 50s & 60's) "the superintendent had little external interference in conducting the work of the school district and boards became secondary in the operations of the school districts. The role of the board of education was, in large part, to support and approve the work of the superintendent." In those days, many superintendents simply came to the office, did "their job" and went home.

That has all changed.

School districts of today are big businesses within their local communities, hiring hundreds and in the case of Jefferson County, 13,000 employees and spending millions of tax dollars. And superintendents make most of the major decisions affecting their districts.

As Paul D Houston understood,

Although it is not clear what the role will become in the future, it seems certain that uncertainty will be the hallmark of the job. That will require a different set of expectations for those entering the profession. The new imperative that "all children be taught" will call for greater educational leadership from the superintendent.

Further, the uncertain political climate that now surrounds schools will require the superintendent to be proficient in politics and the art of persuasion. Much of the work will revolve around the ability to create and maintain relationships. The modern superintendent will not be a superintendent of schools whose job is to oversee and manage–he or she will be a superintendent of learning who will have to navigate an uncertain terrain with skill and finesse.

This job isn't likely to be done well in solitude. As Susan Weston opined recently,

From watching strong administrators, I'm used to the idea that they travel. They go to meetings where they learn and contribute to other people learning. That's how they get strong and stay strong. It's part of how the profession works.

Most of that travel happens in-state, but it makes sense to me that the head of our largest district would do more national things, and a leader hired from Massachusetts might have some ongoing commitments in the Boston area.

So what do we make of Jefferson County Superintendent Sheldon Berman's travels? ...and why do I care about a story that I'm not sure really is a story? I'm not sure I know.

I kinda backed into this story accidentally. It evolved out of a concern that I had erronerously misreported some related information. By the time I checked and corrected, the story moved on from conflict of interest, to impropriety, and now to how much travel Sheldon Berman did over the past two years. It's about time for KSN&C to move on too.

The level of travel being discussed over the past two years of Berman's 260-day annual calendar certainly doesn't alarm me. But my opinion counts for zip in this matter. It is the opinion of citizens in Louisville that matter here as represented through their board of education.

What kind of school district leadership do those citizens envision as being best for Jefferson County children? One that builds networks in order to secure the resources necessary to help the students? Or an insular "stay at home" superintendent?

My guess is the former.

But in any case, there ought to be some consensus on how many days we're talking about. So far there isn't.

At Page One, Jake counts "a total of 18 missed work days for non-JCPS-related meetings... throughout the school year."

Berman tells KSN&C, that over a two year period, at most it should have "calculated to about 9 days out of the district rather than 18."

Here's the play by play which includes written responses sent ot KSN&C from Berman:

PageOne: On Friday, December 14th, 2007 he attended the Campaign for Civic Mission of Schools Steering Committee in Washington, D.C. Meaning he could have traveled to D.C. on the Thursday before missing a total of two days of work for the meeting.

Berman: CMS, Friday, December 14, 2007: I flew out to DC on 6:30 am flight and returned that evening at 10 pm, the meeting took only one rather than the two days Jake indicates.

Score: Pg1 = 2 Berman = 1

PageOne: On Thursday & Friday, January 10th & 11th, 2008 he attended the National Center for Learning and Citizenship Board meeting in Denver. If he traveled on Wednesday, he missed three days of work.

Berman: NCLC, Thursday and Friday, January 10-11, 2008: I did a presentation to JCPS athletic directors on the morning of the 10th and left for Denver on a 11 am flight. I returned the evening of the 11th because I had meetings at Central High School on Saturday morning. So this is actually less than two days away instead of the three Jake assumes.

Score: Pg1 = 5; Berman = <3>

PageOne: On Monday, May 19th, 2008 he attended the Center for Applied Special Technology Board meeting in Boston. If he traveled back to Louisville on Tuesday, that’s two days of work.

Berman: CAST, Monday, May 19, 2008: I flew to Hudson on Saturday morning because I spoke at the GED graduation on Friday evening. I attended the Monday meeting which ended around 7 pm. I flew back early the next morning and was back at work before 11 am on Tuesday. Since I tend to work late, I think I put in a full day on Tuesday. So, that's one day rather than 2 Jake indicates.

Score: Pg1 = 7; Berman = <4

PageOne: On Monday, June 2nd, 2008 he attended the Educators for Social Responsibility Spring 2008 Board meeting in Boston. Back on Tuesday, that’s two days of work.

Berman: ESR, Monday, June 2, 2008: I left Louisville on Friday afternoon to visit with my family for the weekend. The meeting was Monday. I flew back to Louisville Monday night. That's one day of meetings rather than 2 as Jake indicates.

Score: Pg1 = 9; Berman = <5

PageOne: On Tuesday, July 1st, 2008 he attended the National Center for Learning and Citizenship Board meeting in Austin, Texas. If he traveled to Austin on Monday and returned home on Wednesday, that’s three days of work missed.

NCLC, Tuesday, July 1, 2008: I flew to Austin on Monday, June 30 for a meeting of ECS's 100 District leaders that afternoon. I attended the NCLC meeting on the 1st and returned on the morning of the 2nd and was back at work at 1 pm. Since it is an honor to be selected as one of the 100 district leaders, I'm not sure how to calculate the time on this one. It was two and half days out of the district.

Score: Pg1 = 12; Berman 7

PageOne: On Thursday, September 25th, 2008 he attended the Center for Applied Special Technology Board meeting in Wakefield, Massachusetts. There on Wednesday, back on Friday = three days of work.

Berman: CAST, Thursday, September 25, 2008: [I worked in the office all day on the 24th and flew out that evening.] I took September 26 as a vacation day and returned on Sunday. One day.

Score: Pg1 = 15; Berman = 8

PageOne: And on Thursday, January 22nd he again attended a Center for Applied Special Technology Board meeting in Wakefield. Another possible three days of in-district work missed.

Berman: CAST, Thursday, January 22, 2009: I flew out on the morning of the 22nd and began my meetings at CAST around noon. The meeting ended around 7 pm, making it impossible for me to fly back that evening. I took the 23rd as a work day at home since I had a lot of writing and miscellaneous work to catch up on and my kids were at school all day. I visited my family in Hudson for the weekend and returned on Sunday. One day.

Score: Pg1 = 18; Berman = 9

Whos' right? You be the judge.

I was hoping include comments from a couple of JCPS board of edcation members - to see if any of them are concerned - but I haven't hear back from members today and decided to go ahead and print what I had.

Is anyone else finding it hard to blog during finals week?

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