Urgent Homework For Superintendents and School Boards

School building (Photo by Bill Pike)

Today in Virginia, a classroom teacher will meet with the school’s principal. This dedicated teacher will deliver a letter of resignation. Disrespect for the profession, poor faculty morale, and lack of support working with challenging students are among the reasons for resigning.

Also today, a school bus driver, who back in September responded to the desperate pleas by school systems for bus drivers will resign. The driver cites uncooperative students, lack of support in working with those students, and exasperating parents.

And before the day is over, a conscientious student will meet with a school counselor. The student will express to the counselor how difficult it is to concentrate in the classroom with unruly students who constantly disrupt instruction.

And, there’s more.

This is the time in the school year when human resource departments make difficult decisions. Not renewing teacher contracts, reviewing internal teacher transfer requests, and finalizing teacher projections for the upcoming school year are priorities.

Superintendents and their staffs are completing plans for high school graduations and summer programs for students. Also, they are keeping a careful eye on the annual budget process from local governments.

And those same superintendents and school boards hope their school systems can make it to that last day of school without imploding. Firearms, disruptive fights, community incidents, deteriorating buildings, non-accredited schools, lawsuits, banning books, and the undertow of low morale are among potential heartburn headlines.

For years, our public schools have become quite skilled at accumulating unfavorable headlines. No school system is immune from challenges. School systems pivot off people, and too frequently our human imperfections create problems.

During my thirty-one years and beyond of working in the public schools of Virginia, I encountered the resigning teacher and bus driver, and the frustrated student. Human resource personnel, superintendents, and school boards were in my interactions too.

No matter how many good days school personnel and students have, it’s the tough days that wear school people down. I put my heart and soul into my work as a principal. But, I felt like the lousy days drained me mentally and physically. I sensed I was less effective. That’s not good for my own morale, nor the morale of the school.

Schools were on a slippery slope before the pandemic. Those pre-pandemic challenges haven’t disappeared.

Virginia’s Department of Education must have endless amounts of data about those challenges. However, that data is worthless unless we use it to initiate reforms. How can that data be used to retain skilled teachers, reduce unacceptable student behaviors, and make the school environment effective and safe for all?

Honestly, I think the data will affirm that we can’t legislate or money our way out of school problems. But, I believe superintendents and school boards can address those problems by investing in the time to listen.

Before school ends, superintendents and school boards must implement individual and small group listening sessions. These sessions can’t be pity parties that are grounded in winless whining. The focus must be on the following: what works, what doesn’t work, and recommendations for change.

Clearly, learning from teachers who are resigning or who have requested an internal transfer should be a priority. But, I believe that opportunity to listen must include instructional assistants, secretaries, nurses, custodians, bus drivers, food services personnel, social workers, psychologists, family advocates, conscientious students, disruptive students, principals, and parents.

Yes, this is a big homework assignment. But failure to invest in this time to listen will guarantee more challenges for our schools. Honestly, we are at a point where we can’t afford more of the same.

From these sessions, I’ll be surprised if the erosion of our families and low morale fail to emerge.

Erosion of families and low morale are vicious silent cancers that fuel recurring challenges in our schools. Not only does poor morale impact school personnel, it shapes students and their families too.

To counter poor morale, superintendents and school boards must commit to unyielding support in all schools. Unyielding support means working collaboratively to find sensible solutions.

To halt the erosion of our families will require the forming of cooperative partnerships with school system personnel and community agencies. Without question, these community partners must have a track record of success in working with struggling families. That potential partnership work should be framed in practical, user friendly templates for helping families.

Yes, the last day of school is marked on the calendar.

However, for superintendents and school boards essential listening homework remains.

This is an urgent assignment, an assignment that can’t be ignored.

It requires listening with compassion and understanding.

Superintendents and school boards, that teacher, bus driver, and student need your time and ears.

Don’t miss an opportunity to initiate change, do your homework.

Author’s note: I started writing this piece back in mid-April 2023. I wrote it after a conversation with my wife. She had recently spoken with a dedicated instructional assistant at a challenging elementary school. No matter their location, if you know an educational leader, I encourage you to share this post. That loyal instructional assistant like all school system personnel deserves to be heard and supported.

2 thoughts on “Urgent Homework For Superintendents and School Boards”

  1. I have been teaching since 1995 with a 7 year hiatus in the middle. In those years I have never known teachers to walk out in the middle of the year like I have in the last two. Usually because they were moving. I intentionally tracked down the ones I knew were resigning these last few years and asked them all the same question and I got the same answer from every one of them.

    Question; When you told administration you were resigning what did you say to them when they asked, ‘Wait. Is there a way we could fix this and get you to stay?’

    Answer: ‘They never asked. They told me how to resign, the calls to make and papers to fill out.’

    I would simply reply, “I know. That’s why we lose.”


    1. Stan, thanks for sharing this insight, and you are so right about “continuing to lose.” I’m afraid we are at quite a crossroads in public education, and I hope we wake up. Thanks for all you do and for toughing it out in your school. Be safe, Bill Pike


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s