Would You Take this job?
Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
I got a letter the other day from my 9-year-old son's new principal.
It's amazing, this is the fourth principal he has had in the past
three years. At first I thought it was something about the Glen
Ridge Public Schools. But upon further examination, this lack of
stability and consistency in key administrative positions in our
public schools is a statewide phenomenon. And it's not just principals,
it's superintendents as well. This was the topic addressed by Gordon
MacInnes, a former state senator and president of Citizens for Better
Schools, a non-profit group promoting open and candid discussion
on educational issues. According to MacInnes, "The number and
quality of candidates to lead our schools and districts are declining.
Alarmingly so. Seasoned recruiters recount that 15 years ago, a
single ad for a superintendent's opening would attract about 100
candidates. Today, multiple ads might produce 30, half of whom will
not meet threshold criteria."
This is scary stuff. All the research into educational excellence
concludes that no matter how good a classroom teacher may be, without
a strong, capable and creative leader in both a school and a school
district, success will be spotty at best. Why is it so tough to
attract and keep talented educational administrators? According
to MacInnes, who while in the state legislature was a major player
on educational issues, there are several reasons; First, this is
a really tough job. The state of New Jersey requires that superintendents
and principals lead an educational effort that has students and
faculty prepared for hundreds of new "core curriculum"
standards adopted into law in 1996. Some of these standards "such
as teaching for foreign languages in the primary grades, call for
major changes in curriculum, approach, and personnel." The
problem here is that the principals and superintendents simply don't
have the authority and flexibility to be so creative. They can't
bring in talented personnel with a language specialty without justifying
such a hire to a variety of audiences, including citizens who don't
want to pay more in taxes and school board members who are scared
to death of doing anything that might anger the voters who decide
Speaking of board members, according to MacInnes, too frequently
"they engage in micro-management, second-guessing and inappropriate
demands." Further, he argues that, "Superintendents are
held accountable for the performance of subordinates whom they didn't
appoint, can't discipline and can't fire. Yet the superintendent
is the only job not eligible for tenure."
This is crazy. No CEO in the corporate world could succeed with
board members breathing down their neck every time they make a decision.
The fact that it is almost impossible to get rid of a non- or under-performing
teacher because of outdated tenure laws simply ties the hands of
principals and superintendents behind their backs. If educational
administrators are going to get the blame when students fall short
on standardized tests, shouldn't they have the right to make personnel
decisions regarding who will teach those students? It seems so obvious
and logical, yet reforming tenure in New Jersey is at least a Millennium
The next point former senator MacInnes makes is that our expectations
of what schools should be doing are totally unrealistic. "Schools
should prevent drug use, premarital sex, erratic driving and incivility
while also producing winning teams and graduates who gain acceptance
to the nation's best colleges. Since practically everyone has been
to school, everyone is an expert on what's needed."
MacInnes' point is right on. Our schools have become a place upon
which to blame all of society's ills. What about us as parents?
Are we really spending enough time with our kids? Do we truly know
what is going on in their lives? If we feel frazzled and stressed
trying to juggle work and complex family issues, why should we expect
that educators and educational administrators give personal attention
to literally hundreds and thousands of kids on the most sensitive
and difficult problems and challenges facing them? When was the
last time you visited your kid's classroom in an effort to get a
sense of what really goes on in school? When was the last time you
volunteered to help out a teacher? I know we are all busy, but the
fact is, schools can't work without parents being actively involved
in the process.
Finally, what about the money? MacInnes asks the question, why
would an assistant superintendent trade in a job that pays $110,000
with tenure for one that pays $125,000 without security and with
the ultimate responsibility for the performance of a very complex
enterprise? The same question can be asked of teachers (the highest
paid in the nation) or vice principals and supervisors.
Those are great questions. I know I wouldn't trade up for a few
bucks and take on the top job in the school or a school district
given the current climate and working conditions. Would you? My
intent is not to cry the blues for school administrators, but rather
to acknowledge that there is a growing problem in our schools, which
in turn means there is a problem for our kids. Four principals in
three years? Something is wrong here, don't you think?
Steve Adubato, Ph.D. is a commentator, lecturer and former state
legislator. Dr. Adubato is also an Emmy Award-winning television
anchor and syndicated columnist.
He can be reached by fax (973) 509-1659 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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