February 26, 2021

A New Superintendent’s Emergent Entry Plan (Part 1 of 3)

The Superintendents’ Corner:

This is the first of three entries on the topic of entry plans for superintendents.

When I first became a superintendent I had only a limited sense of what I should do as I started in my new position.  They didn’t teach that in “Superintendents’ School” and with a whole group of new superintendents (assistant superintendents in American parlance), there weren’t too many reference points!  Luckily for me there was no requirement for filing with my Director an entry plan so I was left to my own devices — always, in some ways, a nice place to be because the possibilities are unlimited.

To make matters worse, I had 22 schools, 18 of which were elementary schools and 4 of which were  high schools.  I had taught only in high schools and was a principal only in high schools. I had a lot to learn!

I decided to follow a process of gathering information from “the 3 Ps” — places, paper and people — with the latter, I knew, likely to take me the most time.  So let’s start on the first “P” — places.

My superintendency was spread over a suburban section of the city but also a large rural area with schools serving small villages and farming communities.  Geographically, it was the largest superintendency in the district.  Luckily, I had grown up in the city of which these areas were extensions so I had some knowledge of what I would find.

It was the week before the schools opened so I had time to drive around and not feel guilty about not “dropping in” for a visit to the school and the principal. I just wanted to drive and to observe.

The first thing I did was get a map from the Transportation Department of the attendance areas for each school and planned my trip.  After about a day and a half of driving, I was surprised about what I learned. 

For the suburban schools, I looked at where the new housing developments were going up, where the recreation centres were, the locations of the shopping centres near the high schools and the public bus route and transit stations.  Stopping in front of the elementary schools, I took note of the bus laybys and any problems I noticed about where the buses were loaded and unloaded and the parents dropped off and picked up their children.  I found, and noted, areas I really thought could be problematical and made notes on them for upcoming discussions with the principals.

For the rural schools, I was interested to travel the main country roads that brought the buses to the schools and where the problem intersections were on those country roads. In doing so, I was able to gather information on the state of the farms and villages — and there was a great variety.  There were enclaves of real wealth — people living on large “estates” —  but there were also areas where there was some obvious scrub farming with houses and barns badly in need of repair.  It was clearly a mixed bag.

The school buildings also showed evidence of great variation.  There were some old, some brand new with many of both types having some real “curb appeal” to use an architectural term.  The playgrounds in the elementary schools that I could see were again of a variable nature and, to tell the truth, I was a little surprised to see some equipment that was, to the best of my understanding, no longer up to the local safety codes.  Similarly I could see that the new buildings all were built with an awareness of accessibility issues — but many of the older ones were not.  Again, I put that down in my notes.

That was the same for the high schools, some of which had well-groomed playing fields of their own and some of which were located right by local indoor rinks or parks which had soccer fields and ball diamonds.  As with the elementary schools there was a great deal of variation in terms of accessibility.

By the time I finished my tour as a “visitor” I had already collected a tonne of information, more than I had expected to get.  I wanted to use this information as a basis for chats with the principals.  It was then that I sat down and made a file for each of my schools and separated my notes by school  adding a list of questions I wanted to ask as a result of what I had seen.

When I did this it was just to gather information and get some clarification from the principals to the questions I had about what I had seen.  What I didn’t realize was how important it would be in my first formal interview with each principal to have that knowledge bases as a starting point — but we’ll get to that in the next two entries.

Dr. Dan