New Demands, New Pressures Alter Administrators' Roles
Superintendents and principals are quick to note how much the dimensions of their jobs have changed.
"I think the demands of the job have exponentially increased," said Robert Lichtenfeld, the superintendent of the 4,000-student Katonah-Lewisboro school district in New York. "Generally, districts are understaffed in terms of administrators, so people are working summers and evenings," he said. "And, frankly, the public is much more demanding that it used to be."
"In the old days, you were OK and considered pretty successful if you were a good manager and [kept] on top of all the little details," observed Lynn Babcock, the principal of the 570-student Grant Elementary School in Livonia, Mich.
"Now," added Ms. Babcock, the current president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, "you're definitely expected to be an instructional leader and also a very skilled manager."
"If you look back maybe 20 or 30 years, a principal may have been involved in working with the parent-teacher association and maybe an athletic-booster club, but that was it," said Al Hanna, the assistant superintendent for human resources in the 17,000-student Blue Valley district in Overland Park, Kan. "Now, you have your band boosters, drill-team boosters, the parents of gifted students. There's a number of special-interest groups that want to do great things for kids, but they also want to have a chance to voice their agenda and advocate for things they want."
School leaders also share a perception that they have less freedom to run their schools the way they see fit because of state and district regulations, court rulings, and union contracts.
"The whole ball of wax is not as attractive as it used to be," said Superintendent David W. Bottom of the 1,100-student Argenta-Oreana Community Unit School District #1 in northeastern Illinois. "It's not fun to have your hands tied so much when you're trying to do things for kids."
While most administrators agree that they should focus on instructional leadership, they also emphasize that that's only one of the many hats they wear. "Being an instructional leader is something we all want to do, but we're also the plant manager and the social-service director," said Peter Sack, the principal of the 750-student Swampscott (Mass.) High School.
He estimated that administrators spend "maybe one minute out of every five on something devoted to education, and the other four minutes are spent on a variety of issues having to do with everything from safety to eating disorders."
The result, some say, is that principals often end up being crisis managers who scramble from one emergency to another.
"Twenty or 25 years ago, if you did a successful job of managing the system and keeping it running smoothly and financially sound, you were thought of as ... being successful as an administrator," said Barry W. Furze, the superintendent of the 3,000-student Meade district in Sturgis, S.D. "What really is expected now is results: Can you show us that you're really providing a good-quality education to the students?"
"These are not complaints. I love my job," added Mr. Sack, who serves on the board of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. "It's a tremendous challenge because so many people are at you for so many different things.
"We've almost come to a situation where we almost guarantee ourselves failure because it's very hard to deliver on all the things that we're expected to produce."
Vol. 19, Issue 19, Page 14Published in Print: January 19, 2000, as New Demands, New Pressures Alter Administrators' Roles