Sunday, August 9, 2009

One Superintendent's Summer

I often get asked: What, exactly, do you do in the summer when all of the students and staff are gone? Well, besides getting home at a more reasonable hour during the summer weeks (my daughters don’t know what to do with me), occasionally wearing shorts to work, and enjoying longer and more thoughtful conversations with teachers, parents, and school committee members, summer provides the time for reading, reflecting, and preparing for a new school year.

This fall we will open High Rock, the district’s 8th school, and this has required the collective efforts of several folks, including the new principal. But much of my time this summer has been spent hiring teachers and new administrators. We are very fussy about our hiring process, and it consumes a lot of time: the recruitment, screening of hundreds of applications, lengthy interviews, reference checking, demonstration lessons, site visits, and final interviews in the central office all require the attention and time of principals and staff. But it is time well spent because the folks we hire will impact the education of our children in a big way and we need to get it right. Students don’t get a second chance at fifth grade if we aren’t choosy about whom we hire in the first place! Frankly, nothing is more important than hiring great people.

This summer I have also had the pleasure of observing our teachers in their summer coursework (summertime for good teachers always involves additional coursework, reading, and classroom organization), teaching in summer programs, and talking to me about their hopes and plans for next year and beyond. Indeed, the summer months are the time our teachers continue their learning and preparation for a fresh crop of students!

I have especially enjoyed connecting with individual School Committee members over a leisurely cup of coffee or lunch. Needham is fortunate to have seven School Committee members who are incredibly wise, talented, and hugely invested in and committed to the schools and their community. It’s always great to check in with them and learn about what is important to them as we work together to support teaching and learning.

I have not plowed through as many books as I would like (I never do), but I’ve finished a great little book edited by Houston, Blankstein, and Cole entitled Spirituality in Educational Leadership. No, it’s not a prayer book for superintendents (although that could sell well in my circles), but it is a series of articles from educators and researchers who posit that school administrators need to ensure schools are sanctuaries of learning and places where we encourage the development of good character and a sense of community. I’ve also managed to plow through a couple novels, including Grisham’s The Appeal, and am half way through Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. I admire Lincoln and think he was the greatest President to serve our nation. He was a brooding leader with a broad vision who realized we could not be two nations: one free and one slave. Instead, he fought for one union without slavery and paid with his life.

It’s been a good summer so far. And there is still time to get to the beach and enjoy my family before September 1st, the opening of a new school, and the start of a school year. Maybe I’ll even get one more Grisham in…


  1. Blech - just lost my whole comment.

    Could just write have a great summer, but...

    Sounds like I'll have to add Spirituality in Educational Leadership to my book pile. The most interesting book I've read this summer is The Islamist by Ed Husain. It's given me a much better appreciation for Islamism evolved and it's differences from the classical Muslim faith. I also read Shop Class as Soulcraft and found it disappointing. Could have been much shorter and less dry. (And I'm a believer that Shop Class *IS* Soulcraft.) And, of course, I still need to read Don's Performance Pay book. Ned and I read Tamar for our book club which was an interesting World War II in occupied Holland story. I wasn't expecting the ending at all (and neither was Ned!) I will need something to read on Wednesday and Thursday. I'm hoping my request for God at the Ritz will be in by then. :)

  2. Just popped into to fill out the performing arts survey and was so pleased to see such a beautiful change to the schools home web site. The changing images give the site such a personal feel, it draws you right in.

    A busy summer indeed!
    Thank you

  3. Spirituality in Education sounds like a fascinating read. I have often felt this is unspoken part of all good/great teachers. We teach and it is an act of faith. Faith that our students will become the adults they envision. Faith that the tools and passion we try to bring to them will help them make their best decisions. In the day to day small stuff this faith is tested. Administrators need to remember their own faith in our profession and find ways to foster it their faculties. I hope that you will have other administrators read this and share it with their schools.
    I am still pushing through Team of Rivals. I thought I should do a internet field I read research...some of the stuff so great, but it takes a while to get through.