person chained to desk

In late October, the annual New Jersey School Boards Convention is held in Atlantic City, NJ. A collection of school board members, vendors, lawmakers, board attorneys, and yes, Superintendents.  It’s typically a whirlwind of activity, but some of the best learning are the side conversations with my colleagues. There are 591 Superintendents, and often we are on our own island when it comes to work.  The face to face time is celebrated.

At one gathering, about two dozen of us starting talking and we weaved into the topic of attendance.  Not student attendance, not staff attendance, not administrator attendance; attendance of superintendents in their districts.

One of my colleagues had a board member inquire about her attendance over the past year. She is very active on social media with educational best practices and often shares with her followers what she’s doing and where she’s going.  Most of her activities are done on her time; when other events or opportunities (that benefit her district) arise, she’ll either put in a request for school time or just take personal or vacation days.  However, despite her vigorous work ethic, her productivity was questioned due to the fact that these endeavours took her out of the office.

I was rather intrigued by this, as over the past 5 months, I have been in the same spot. Some folks think that the Superintendent’s job is working out of his / her office, Monday-Friday, 9-5. Those are the same folks who think we are still in the 70’s & 80’s; the same folks that want to keep everything just the way it is.

Anyway, back to attendance. I have one of the most time-consuming jobs today, and it’s because of our environment. I can’t even think of a day where I was at my desk all day, let alone in the same place.

I work often from 6AM – 10PM.

I have BOE meetings  (3-4 hours, often more) and workshop meetings  (1-3 hours) – each once a month.

I attend Library Board meetings one a month (evening hours)

I attend monthly OEM (Office of Emergency Management) meetings (that range from 1-2 hours) once a month.

I attend monthly county and state roundtable meetings once a month, often taking half if not all day.

I attend NJASA meetings once every other month, that often have something I can bring back to my district.

Depending on the year, I have Open Houses, Winter Concerts, and PTA fundraisers.

I have BOE Committee meetings (that should be an hour or two that turn into 3 or 4).

As a Superintendent, I work tirelessly for the district.Some people simply don’t understand that it’s beneficial for the district to do work outside of the office, such as conferences. It exposes the district to a myriad of opportunities and incentives; had I not gone to certain conferences, I would have never learned about productive programs for students, grants & partnerships for families. Not attending events often leads you to being stuck in the same rut. One of my Superintendent friends put it best:If you don’t want me being a part of the future of education or being at the table masking the decisions, just let me know and I’ll punch my time card. Do you know what happens then?  You end up trying to play catch up.  I don’t know about you, I like riding the wave, not swimming behind it trying to catch it.

Do I attend conferences, workshops, meetings, and events? Yes. I am proactive, not reactive. Do I enjoy all of them? No. I have a family, too. Do they help me be a better leader and offer takeaways that I can channel in my district? Most of the time, yes. Will there always be some who won’t ever understand this? Ofcourse – their blinders are sodded on. I can’t change them, so I will spend my energy elsewhere, getting something positive and productive done.

And let’s be real for a second.  It’s 2016.  I have two cell phones. If there is a problem, I’m a click or call away. I encourage people to consider that when they dwell on office time.

So, in sum, what was this post about?  People need to stop worrying about Superintendents and attendance. We are on our jobs 24-7-365, and we don’t need to be sitting at our desk or be in our schools all day to do it.