Lancer Letter – The Superintendency

Submitted by Richard Scaletta, GM School District

This week’s Lancer Letter is the 350th I’ve provided since beginning my tenure as superintendent. I’m not sure how you should mark a 350th anniversary but I thought I would do it by making some remarks about the job itself.

When I first became superintendent, people would ask, “So, how do you like the new job?” My flippant response would be, “It depends on the day.” That’s a safe answer. It’s a response that works for any job.

It’s interesting to see how students view the position. At McKean Elementary earlier this year a student asked, “Are you the President?” I said, “No, I don’t tweet.” (Actually, that’s not what I said.) A high school student once asked if I had a bunker like the President. At that time I was holding out hope that when we abandoned the old sewage treatment plant, I could use that subterranean structure for that purpose so I said, “Not yet.” The elementary students seem most satisfied though when their teacher references their principal and tells them I’m their principal’s boss. They get that context.

Italian arts songs and arias tend to emphasize certain lyrics by repeating the phrase three times. So in that spirit, I explain the superintendency in triads. (Alert to education professors who sometimes use my letters in classes to train future school superintendents: this one is a keeper.)

So when someone asks, “What do you do all day?”, I tell people the job comes down to three things: preparing for meetings, attending meetings and following up from meetings. (Okay, so maybe there’s a lot left out there but it does cover about 75% of what I do.)

In addition to those three activities, I frequently find myself asking three questions.

Question #1: Why does everything have to be so complicated?

It seemed like when I was a teacher or principal, problems were less complicated. Now it seems that everything I deal with comes with no ready answers and a host of legal strings, complicated processes and insurance issues.

This was put into perspective for me one year when President Obama was interviewed during half-time of a super bowl. He said that all the problems he dealt with were complicated because if they were not, someone else would have solved them. Bingo! We have very good principals and managers in the district so they solve all the easier (not necessary simple) problems. If I start getting easy problems to solve, I know they are not doing their jobs!

Question #2: Why does everything take so long?

Here in the central office, progress seems to happen over the course of years, not days and months. While at the high school, we accomplished a major change – a move from a traditional schedule to a block schedule – in nine months. The few construction projects I’ve been involved with in Central Office have taken years from planing to completion. Much of the reason for this elongated process is what I call “government inflicted pain on government.” It seems that the hoops we have to jump through to satisfy all the various government agencies are designed to test our patience and endurance. Only those who endure will survive!

Question #3: Why does everything cost so much?

Applying financial parameters of private life to projects in the public sector does not work. So many things that would appear to be inexpensive to me turns out to cost so much! Again, much of it is related to the government imposed permits and wages. Other aspects are related to the safety requirements of anything done for public use.

Sadly, I’ve come to accept this unpleasant fact. Whatever I think something will cost, I just multiply it by ten!

So there you have it. After seven years and 350 letters, I’ve revealed the secrets of the superintendency.

The Lancer Letter is a weekly editorial by Richard Scaletta, Superintendent of Schools, General McLane School District. Opinions expressed are Mr. Scaletta’s views on the issues and subjects of discussion, and not necessarily those of or our sponsors.

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