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  • Erica Peterson

What’s Your Superintendent’s Top Priority?

I had the privilege of engaging with a mix of 25 county and district Superintendents last week on chronic absenteeism. Their heartburn was:

  1. Filling staff vacancies

  2. Retention of staff

  3. Closing learning gaps

Frankly, everything else, like attendance, albeit important, needs to wait. Unfortunately, when top leadership doesn’t focus on chronic absenteeism, it sends a clear message that it’s not important to staff and students. I’ll use hypothetical me as an example. Let’s say, I’m in charge of Educational Services and tasked with ‘X, Y, and Z’ which are new teacher induction, PLCs, and tutoring programs. I also oversee ‘LMNOP’ which is student absenteeism.

Like most employees, I care deeply about whatever my Superintendent is focused on. That doesn’t mean that my other duties don’t matter but if I’m regularly asked and reporting to her on X, Y, and Z, then I’m working actively on X, Y, and Z—I’ll focus on LMNOP later, or as my bandwidth permits. If LMNOP has an upcoming deadline, I’ll shift to attend to it and then go back to X, Y, and Z because that’s what’s been signaled to me by my boss—X, Y, and Z are what really matter. For me, LMNOP is in maintenance mode, I’ll work mainly to ensure they stay afloat. Here’s what my boss is missing:

  1. Attracting staff involves the overall student performance in the district. Focusing on systems that increase learning time is critical to improving student performance.

  2. No employee ever said, “I want my work to be as time-consuming and as cumbersome as possible.” Strong systems that provide automation and manage workflows foster retention making staff feel capable.

  3. Strategies like intensive tutoring to close gaps only benefit the kids who show up for them. Ask a reading intervention program salesperson—the results touting their program’s success only include the kids who complete the entire program. Kids who stop showing up are excluded from the data.

Getting and keeping kids in school needs to be on the priority list. While it may feel like “one more thing” waiting to focus on, student attendance may protract attracting and retaining staff and will prolong learning gaps. Hypothetical me would be relating these intersections to my boss so they understand why they need to focus on LMNOP in support of X, Y, and Z.


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