In this three-part post, I will present what I have found over the years of what superintendents did daily on the job over a century ago, 85 years ago, 40 years ago, and the work schedule of contemporary superintendents.
Getting a picture of what superintendents do every day, then and now, is useful in understanding the multiple roles that superintendents perform with the school board who hire and fire them, interactions with teachers and principals, parents, local politicians, and the unpredictability of their work. The high expectations that educators and non-educators have about superintendents arise from these many daily tasks they have performed for over a century. In the last post, I will also offer one superintendent’s views of the impact of a superintendent’s job on one family.
1904: A SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENTS DAY IN A SMALL CITY
William Chancellor, a former superintendent who served in large and small cities wrote what a typical day looked like for the school chief in a district at the beginning of the 20th century.
1. Inspected school building. Sent messenger for painter to repair window glass. Notified chief of police to follow up street “hoodlums”who broke glass.
2. Read mail; business letters from places large and small: correspondence with colleges; teachers’ applications, requests for subscriptions to help national charities, calls to give addresses here and there, generally gratis; answered mail.
3. Talked to mayor about next year’s appropriations.
4. Looked into a new textbook.
5. Visited a school; sent one child home who had apparently an infectious disease, discussed salary with a discontented teacher.
6. Dictated circular letter to board of education regarding educational and financial matters.
7. Saw a textbook agent.
8. Ate lunch; interrupted by call from mother of sick child.
9. Read and signed letters of reply to morning mail.
10. Called at business place of board member, saw two politicians there; discussed three R’s as usual.
11. Held grade meeting; gave sample lesson on mensuration [branch of geometry that deals with measuring area and volume]
12. Visited by Catholic sisters from parochial school, regarding truants.
13. Read afternoon mail; sent notes regretting absence from office to following callers: Presbyterian minister, carpenter to discuss repairs in a school building, mother of child suspended from school for misconduct.
14. Made a statistical table.
15. Ate dinner; caller on school matters came at seven o’clock,
16. Went to evening engagement and was called on to speak.
17. Read an hour and retired for the night.
Chancellor commented that this was an easy day. Were it a “hard day”, one would need to “add a board or committee of the board meeting, a formal public address or the making of a test.”
1928: National survey of administrators
In that year a national survey of 663 principals and superintendents in various-sized districts reported on which tasks were performed and how frequently. Four of five superintendents reported that they did the following;
*Go to the post office
*Deliver messages to teachers
*Draft special reports to state and U.S. Bureau of Education,prepare annual reports for school board
*Prepare letters of sympathy
*Conduct visitors through schools
*Examine school work sent to office
*Prevent salesmen from canvassing schools
*Gather school publicity data
*Adjust complaints of parents
*Consider applications, examine credentials, consult with principals in selecting teachers for district
*Secure substitute teachers
*Suggest professional books and articles for teachers
*Investigate criticism of teachers
*Assist teachers to find lodgings
*Attend summer school
*Visit schools elsewhere
*Talk before community groups
*Attend church social functions
Both lists of what superintendents do can be found in Larry Cuban, The Managerial Imperative and the Practice of Leadership in Schools (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1988), pp. 125-128. See: ED304758-1
The next post will document a day I spent as Superintendent in the Arlington (VA) schools nearly 40 years ago.