Dear Rick & Rebecca: I thought I would write to you with my story because I know that this type of problem exists, not only in my own backyard as a school superintendent, but in others’ backyards, as well. I hope my story can encourage other superintendents to stay strong if they ever find themselves sitting on hot coals.
I love being a school superintendent. But, school board politics can sometimes grab hold of us and cause a devastating career apocalypse. I had a good relationship with my school board until a few members from the community (who didn’t like me) ran and actually won seats on the board while they touted that I mismanaged our district’s monies and spent too much on legal bills.
We had some special education legal issues that we were trying to put to rest, but the reality of this position is that sometimes you must use litigation to protect yourself and your staff. We always want to do what’s best for children and spending taxpayer monies on legal bills is never a desirable action.
Nevertheless, the new school board members were friends with the parents that we were in litigation with and once the new board members took office, they decided to not renew my contract. The new members held a 4-3 majority of the board and I saw it all unfold right under my eyes. When they ran for the board, I saw the writing on the wall.
Last year, the board postponed my contract renewal because it seemed too hasty to deal with it while there was so much disarray in the district. So, even though I tried to proactively survive, I’m finished here in January. The district has already started a search for the new superintendent. It is degrading, to say the least. But, I’m still keeping my positive edge. I won’t let these people crush me. I know that I will land on my feet and I have to keep telling myself that. If you have any input other than sharing my story, I’m always open to anything.
–Signed, Looking for a Job
Dear “Looking for a Job”:
Bravo for staying positive! The good news is that you can sleep at night knowing that you did what was right and you maintained your integrity. First, know that this isn’t about you. It is about “them” and what they perceive as a necessary act to balance a budget. This is just business to them. Unfortunately, when someone has a perception, even if it isn’t accurate, it is nearly impossible to undo that perception. It doesn’t sound like there is really anything different that you could have done without us knowing about all of the details. This series of unfortunate events were clearly out of your control.
The good news is that you do have the power to transform your future. From this point forward, how you act, what you do, and your responses will tell the community who you really are. For example, retaliation, bitterness or hatred would say that you are guilty or “wrong” in some way. But kindness, understanding and grace will propel you forward. Clearly, you have a strong skillset if you have already made it to the top of the district food chain once, already. You can be a school superintendent again. We would like to recommend a few steps that you may want to consider in order to rise above this (temporary) career tragedy.
Forgive. Write a letter forgiving your adversaries. But you don’t have to give it to them; it is all about mindful resolution. You won’t be able to move forward in a healthy way unless you resolve this with finality.
Reflect. Write down your strongest attributes, the things that you do well, your greatest successes. All the good stuff about you. Always remember that it was not about you and there are lots of school superintendents who are experiencing your same grief. We would even like to recommend Matt Spencer’s book, entitled, Exploiting Children: School Board Members Who Cross the Line.
Ponder. Write down your biggest dreams. What is still on your professional bucket list? Are there any other professions that you have wanted to try? List every possibility.
Dream. Think bigger than you ever have before. Create a list of your dream jobs. Not tolerable jobs, but any job that would give you the satisfaction of reaching the pinnacle of success. This will sound silly, but listen to music and get pumped up about your future. We started our own leadership dunk tank playlist just a few weeks ago that we think you might enjoy as you put your adversaries behind you and learn from this experience.
Plan. Backward map from that dream job to where you are. Determine those steps between that will lead you to that result. It may just be a matter of applying for that dream job; it may require another certification or degree. Whatever it is, create the path to get there.
Surround yourself with likeminded leaders that care about you and support you. Don’t spend any more time on those that remind you of the past or bring you down in any way. Your future is bright and you will prevail!
Thanks for writing and please keep in touch. We are here to help in any way possible!
You can read Rick and Rebecca’s previous post here.
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If you would like to share a challenge–or an additional good solution–send an e-mail to email@example.com. Each week, Rick and Rebecca will choose their favorite question or nugget of advice for possible inclusion in a future column. That school leader will receive a coupon for a FREE book (up to $25), courtesy of Advanced Educational Products (AEP), a national supplier of books for K-12 schools and libraries.
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