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For superintendents, it’s about kids

It was right after Dan O’Connor became Alcona Community Schools’ superintendent in March when Managing Editor Steve Murch and I were discussing his new duties.

It was around this same time that the Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona had selected Scott Reynolds to replace Brian Wilmot when he retired. And, talks were beginning in Atlanta and Hillman about the possibility of sharing a superintendent.

I shared with Murch that with all that was going on, and all the changes in other districts over the past year, there certainly was a wealth of institutional knowledge being lost across the region in education.

Later that night Murch, following up further on that discussion, did some research and looked at superintendent experience across Northeast Michigan … 22 school districts from M-55 to the south to Mackinaw City to the north, and every school district from Lake Huron to I-75. What he discovered was eye opening. With the exception of only a few school districts, most were being run by superintendents who had been in the position for two years or less.

That discussion, and subsequent research, led to the four-part series that concludes in today’s newspaper. Without question there has been a significant “brain drain” across the region involving superintendents. The reasons for that are many, just as are the ways community school boards have chosen to deal with the issue when faced with a vacancy.

Despite this shift of educational roles there has been one constant that remained, and that is the commitment of superintendents to always keep the needs of students first and foremost. Whether a district was big or small, rich or poor, everyone agreed that student achievement was the main focus for each of them.

Like most job areas, the education field has gone through cyclical changes over the years. While once a field that attracted lots of students who wanted to major in education, that has changed to the point where fewer and fewer students are choosing it as a major. This has led to a teacher shortage in many areas, and consequently, a lack of potential superintendent candidates whenever positions do develop.

I often laugh that no superintendent ever completely retires, he or she just goes on to become an interim in the next town that is looking for help. And while that is quite true of many, even those numbers have begun to shrink as this generational shift in job responsibilities has become more pronounced.

For many, the thought of having to deal with yet another new school board, and the unique cast of individuals who comprise it, is too much to want to tackle again.

Ultimately, what our team of reporters found as they interviewed superintendents, school board members and staff was that despite the experience, the region was blessed with good men and women who go to work each day wanting to make a difference in young people’s lives.

In the end what more could we ask, or want from our superintendents, regardless of their experience?

Bill Speer can be reached via email at bspeer@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 354-3111 ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13.