New Superintendent? Welcome to the Shark Tank

If you didn’t know, I’m from Jersey (New Jersey for all of you formal folks out there). I’m not related to the Sopranos, have no relationship to the cast of the Jersey Shore, and had Governor Christie put our state on the national spotlight for 8 years. Most of us in the Garden State go ‘down the shore’ at some point during the summer…and when we go, we (sadly and naturally) think of sharks.

With JAWS on three different channels a day, recent news stories of NJ shark sightings, and Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week coming up, the Selachimorpha has certainly been on my mind… but let’s add another reason: new Superintendents started this month, and they don’t even know what they got themselves into. They entered the shark tank. And like Hotel California or the Hotel Cortez from American Horror Story, you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.

Shark tanks can be really cool to look at. People of all ages are fascinated with sharks swimming, eating, and their overall gargantuan presence. Let us be reminded of a few characteristics of sharks:

  1.  Sharks are predators.
  2.  Big sharks eat little sharks.
  3. Sharks are masters of sneaking up behind or darting out of nowhere to strike.
  4. A shark bite can kill you.
  5. Sharks can be repelled, but when they are, they come back with even more of a bite and with a vengeance.

If you haven’t caught on yet, we, the Superintendents are sharks, Every single one of us. Any Superintendent who denies such is full of it. Not to sound too pompous, but we are the biggest, ferocious fish round. We slice, dice, attack, and dominate. We show our teeth/power on a daily basis, and we pounce on others’ weaknesses and feed on those smaller than us. We don’t often play well with others, hence often being on our own island or swimming in our own lane. This may come across as dark or nasty, but I’m a Superintendent. I will always be. Once you become a Superintendent, you will always be one. The title will never fade. Most people and organizations will distance themselves from this, but I could care less. This is real.

A few years ago, I attended the AASA annual national conference in New Orleans. I was speaking with some Superintendents from around the country. I spoke about how I was in negotiations to start a new district. One Superintendent at the table asked me where, and another cut her off midsentence. He said flat out “Don’t you dare answer that question.” I asked him why, and he shared right off the bat “You’re kidding me right? This is a table full of sharks. You’ll be cut off at the knees in two seconds if your contract isn’t signed, dated, and in your hand.” I looked at him perplexed and then looked at the others sitting at the table, all laughing and smiling. Are all of these folks sharks? Smiling, laughing, having a good time? Absolutely. It’s how half of them got to be where they are. Some ate fish, some ate smaller sharks.

Sure, we all rise to the top in different ways. Seldomly ‘tapped’ to take the job, most build and write their own playbook and use it. They modify, add, or remove as seen fit. Sometimes they procure or acquire from others (since we don’t steal in education). Some get blown out of the water at first, then swim their way back, with some swimming back quietly and some eating whatever gets in their way. I was blown out of the way once. I had several fishermen go on a fishing expedition to see if anything could be used to bait me. Why? Simple. Fisherman and most of the public is beyond scared of sharks. I scared the tar out of some in showing them what I can do. I swam back, at some points slowly, and other points at full speed with my open, eating and spitting out any and everything that gets in my way.

I’ve come to terms that I am and will always be a shark. Just like every other Superintendent in the country. As mentioned earlier, big sharks eat little sharks, and big sharks certainly eat any fish (or any foreign object for that matter) that either teases them or is in the direct line of sight. Some nieve, new Superintendents have to go through the honeymoon phase. Once that ends, and once the big issues go with the big chair arise, teeth start coming out.

Welcome to the shark tank, rookies. Keep your guard up at all times… you’ll never know who’s coming for you next.

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