Six in eight years

Apr 3, 2015 By Steven R. Peck

That's the alarming statistic of school District 38 superintendents

A statistic from a front-page news story in Thursday's Ranger is an eye-catcher.

The story told of a change in the superintendency of schools at Fremont County School District 38 in Arapahoe. The superintendent who started the school year in the fall was removed a few days ago. An interim superintendent will finish out the school year.

After the basic details of the transaction were reported, the story had one final sentence:

"(Tim) Stathis is the sixth superintendent to leave the district since 2007."

No typos in that sentence. Six superintendents either have quit or been terminated since 2007. The pattern in the years before then wasn't much different.

That is not a record to be proud of. It is the opposite.

Public school administration always has some turnover. It is not necessarily an occupation known for great longevity or unwavering stability. Superintendents are hired by school boards, and school board members are elected. New board members come and go. Points of view change. Public opinion evolves. New challenges emerge. Superintendents age, burn out, move away. Sometimes they even die.

No superintendent serves forever. Most have several posts during their careers. Everyone understands that and accepts it.

But Fremont County has eight public school districts, plus a federal contract school under the Bureau of Indian Affairs -- and none of them has a record even close to District 38's in the superintendent's office. Six superintendents in eight years? In Riverton's District 25, there haven't been more than six superintendents in 50 years.

In isolation, each of the District 38 changes happened for a reason at the time. The accumulated effect, however, is that of a revolving door, spinning at high speed, bringing in one superintendent after another, then sending those superintendents right back out again.

What is the problem? Is it bad hiring practices? Then change them so better candidates apply. Is it poor compensation? Then better it, so an able superintendent has more career incentive to stay put.

Is it poor working conditions? Then improve them, so the school district is a better place to work. Is it too much micro-management by the school board? Then back off and give the superintendent you hire a fair chance to do the job.

Is it a distrust of outsiders? Then cultivate a local administrator and hire him or her eventually for the top job. That's what neighboring Wyoming Indian District 14 has just done.

It goes almost without saying that the district's reputation precedes it at hiring time. The consequences can be more than gossip. The State of Wyoming has intervened at Arapahoe once before, essentially seizing the district and running it from Cheyenne until certain conditions were corrected. Want to get the disapproving state bureaucrats interested again? Having six superintendents in eight years is a good way to do it.

Finding a candidate who is both qualified for the job, suited for it and willing to take it gets harder each time another one leaves. Now that hard circumstance has been proved again.

District 38 ought to make a priority of understanding why stability in the superintendency has been so hard to find, identify the problem and correct it. The stakes are vital, and the patrons and students -- especially the students -- of the school district deserve better. Much better.

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