I get it, teaching is hard. You get a crappy salary, little thanks, and deal with moody kids all day long. But if you live in Connecticut where our Governor has a pronounced vendetta against all teachers, it feels like an uphill battle of constant certification requirements, state tests, teacher evaluations, PTO Princesses, Board hostility, and union meddling.
So, pair that with a challenging environment unique to the state’s urban schools: you’re looking at a near impossible job.
WTNH reports that the state’s urban schools have trouble keeping their most coveted position filled. Superintendents are dropping like flies, literally. The average “lifespan” of a new hire lasts about three years before they Batman out of there.
Former New Haven Schools Superintendent Garth Harries stepped down on Monday after citing repeated clashes with the Board of Education. Yet, under his guidance, the district saw improved test scores, lower dropout rates, and its method of evaluating teachers became a national model. He also had the support of the city’s mayor and teachers’ union. But, despite all the good he did, he faced a battle every step of the way and, in the end, he felt it wasn’t worth the agony anymore.
Hartford and Bridgeport also lost their superintendents this year. Bridgeport’s Fran Rabinowitz resigned this fall, citing a “negative crusade” brought on by a School Board member to undermine her work.
So, why would someone willingly leave a post where they are the most powerful person (and possibly one of the best paid) in the school district?
Turns out, they take on a position that too many now believe are qualified to do, so they face a constant power struggle. Imagine working in an environment where you have to assert your authority on a daily basis against “concerned” parents, Board of Education members, union and government officials who demand to know why the school isn’t performing as expected. It probably grows old really fast.
It’s like being a chief surgeon and, in the middle of open heart surgery, the intern says they know how to operate better than you or that they know a shortcut. You have the education, certifications, and background to prove you know what you’re doing: but that intern believes they know what’s best.
Good thing that doesn’t happen in our hospitals. So why does it happen in our schools?
Wikipedia writes that a school superintendent is “an administrator or manager in charge of a number of public schools or a school district, a local government body overseeing public schools.”
Yep, sounds like a boss to me. So why do they face the constant threat of being undermined by those less qualified than them?
In addition, urban superintendents are tasked with more responsibility now than ever. Before, their main concern was keeping violence out of the schools, now they are expected to help prepare their students for the modern economy.
ABC reports that means addressing student poverty and their ability to learn. They do all this while overseeing a budget worth hundreds of millions of dollars and coordinating a transportation system that is one of the largest in the city: school buses.
It’s obvious schools in New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport struggle to meet the growing needs of our government when it comes to academic performance. Pair that with crippled federal funding and stifled improvement plans, the strain on these superintendents must be incredible. Sounds like a perfectly toxic environment.
This problem isn’t exclusive to Connecticut, either. The Council of the Great City Schools found that the average urban school superintendent lasts a whopping 3.2 years on the job. In 2010, the average was 3.6 years. Compared to rural and suburban districts, Superintendent longevity is twice as long.
For those wondering how to remedy this alarming trend, they should look to Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser, who has overseen the Long Beach, California school district for 15 years. His secret? Perfect harmony with the school board.
When asked about it, he told ABC, “I have been blessed over my 14 years. I have a board that, even though they’re elected geographically, they always focus on the good on the system.”
With that said, it can be assumed that Connecticut’s urban schools have lost sight of what’s important: making sure the children receive a decent education. Instead, all we read about in the papers are power struggles over who has the best idea to “save” the school. And, a year or two later, a brand new resignation letter from the superintendent.
This pattern probably curses our urban school districts to more pain and suffering when it comes to closing the achievement gaps and making progress. As said by Henry Duvall, a spokesman for the Council of the Great City Schools, “The longer a superintendent stays…the greater the chances for reforms to work.”
A statement that is proven by Long Beach, California. So, maybe our schools should take a bit of inspiration from Superintendent Steinhauser and start working in harmony again.