School & District Management Reporter's Notebook

Superintendent-Principal Juggles 2 Jobs in Illinois

By Jessica L. Tonn — October 31, 2006 3 min read
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When an audience member at a conference here asked David D. Gilliland last week what things don’t get done in his district because he serves as both the superintendent and the only high school principal, he fired off an answer right away.

“A social life,” he said without hesitation.

Mr. Gilliland, 48, who has been the superintendent of the 460-student Spoon River Valley, Ill., school district and the principal of its 200-student high school for the past two years, minced no words when describing the challenges of his job. He spoke during a session titled “The Balancing Act of Being Superintendent/Principal” at the National Rural Education Association’s annual conference.

Ever since the district, located 30 miles west of Peoria, decided to combine the two jobs to save money, Mr. Gilliland said, he has had to “live the school and live the district.”

And even within the district, he doesn’t have time for everything.

“I don’t get into the classroom as much as I would like, and that makes me feel bad,” said Mr. Gilliland, a former high school English teacher who has been an educator for 27 years.

But the combined role is not without its benefits.

As the superintendent, he has a much better feel for the district’s budget and spending priorities than most principals. For example, when a high school teacher comes to him with a spending request, he can respond right away.

“I don’t have to go to the superintendent [for the answer],” he said. “I am the superintendent.”

In that role, he’s able to make quick decisions with the school board about alternative academic opportunities for his students, such as dual-credit programs and online courses. He also has direct control over teaching assignments and student placements in his school.

Mr. Gilliland earns $80,000 a year as superintendent and $25,000 as principal. The district estimates that it saves $50,000 a year by having him fill both positions. The district’s annual budget is $3.8 million.

That savings is nearly equal to the salaries of two teachers, according to Mr. Gilliland. The district has a total of 28 teachers, including those for special education. In addition to the grade 7-12 high school, the district has a K-6 elementary school.

Escalante Middle School is two miles away from the edge of Durango, a Colorado town of 15,000.

Eighty-six miles outside Denver, South Park High School in Fairplay, Colo., is “two miles from nothing,” Douglas E. Geverdt, a social and demographic statistician with the U.S. Census Bureau, told the 260 attendees at one of the Oct. 23-25 conference’s general sessions.

Under the geographic classification system used since the 1980s by the National Center for Education Statistics, both are classified as rural schools. But because the classification system uses county lines to delineate metropolitan areas, Escalante is considered outside a metropolitan area, while South Park is considered inside.

Such examples have led the statisticians at the NCES and the Census Bureau to revise the locale classifications over the past two years.

As a result, small-town and rural schools will now be defined by their proximity to urban centers.

Under the new typology, Escalante is classified as a “rural fringe” school, and South Park is “rural remote.”

“In a rural situation, you kind of want to know how far away you are from what,” Mr. Geverdt said.

Thirty-three high school students at the Van Buren Technology Center in Lawrence, Mich., volunteered their time to prepare 322 federal and state income-tax returns for community members last spring.

None of those 322 returns was flagged by the Internal Revenue Service for missing information or errors. It was the only tax-preparation site in the state of Michigan to have a perfect record, program organizers say.

The students’ efforts earned the 2006 NREA Community and Rural Education Service, or CARES, award for the 17,700-student Van Buren Intermediate School District. The award, which includes a $5,000 prize for the district, was presented to Tom Richardson, a business, finance, and management teacher at Van Buren, and Seth Carlson, an 18-year-old freshman at Hope College in Holland, Mich., who led the project as a senior last school year.

Each student who participated in the program received 13 college credits and became certified by the IRS to work for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistant Program. VITA sites serve individuals who earn $38,000 or less per year.

The students filed tax returns that resulted in $257,000 in refunds for residents, according to Mathew T. Dutkiewicz, a senior vice president of Great American Financial Resources Inc., the Cincinnati-based financial- and retirement-planning company that sponsors the award.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 2006 edition of Education Week

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