DA op-ed: Superintendent: More than a name

School district leaders have much in common with their peers in other fields
By: | Issue: June, 2019
April 23, 2019
Erich May is superintendent of Morgan County School District in the eastern panhandle of  West Virginia.

We have a county system of public schools here in West Virginia, but I am not the only superintendent in Morgan County. There is also the parks superintendent, serving two state parks, and there is a mine superintendent, leading the sand mine at U.S. Silica.
Hoping to move closer to family, I started looking for a new job this spring. It turns out that there are all kinds of superintendents—from construction superintendents to beef grind superintendents.


I looked at job vacancies for eight other superintendents: a mine superintendent, a golf course superintendent, a tree superintendent, a construction superintendent, a diving superintendent, a marina superintendent, a beef grind superintendent and a dirt work superintendent.
They have more in common than just a name. For starters, most of these vacancy announcements reference safety. For the mine, construction and diving superintendents, the first responsibility listed is safety on the work site. Certainly, the same thing could be said for superintendents of schools: Our first priority must be the safety and security of students and staff.
These vacancies also highlight the connection between safety and procedures. The golf course superintendent, for instance, ensures compliance with local, state and federal laws. That should sound familiar to school superintendents who must work with school boards and administrators to update and implement policies.

School superintendents are not the only ones who must “adjust quickly and efficiently from task to task.” Tree supers do that, too.

Another facet of these jobs that will resonate with school superintendents is their focus on communication. The tree superintendent is more than a tree surgeon. The job posting details a wide range of communication skills from speaking and writing clearly and accurately to participating constructively in meetings. This tree superintendent is ready for the central office.

Leading a staff

Several of these vacancy announcements also reference the supervisory nature of the job. The marina superintendent will “select, train, motivate and discipline subordinate employees.” The golf course superintendent needs to be skilled in “recruiting, supervising, training, monitoring, evaluating and motivating personnel.” Apparently, the mine superintendent—like a public school superintendent—should know a thing or two about unions.
School superintendents are not the only supers who must “identify and resolve problems involving multiple variables in varied situations” and “adjust quickly and efficiently from task to task.” Tree supers do that, too.

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And if the worst part of your job is making decisions about weather delays and closures, then you may not want that job at the golf course, where the superintendent “determines if and when the course should be closed due to weather conditions.”

Priorities and protocols

Interestingly, several of these job postings list salaries that are in line with school superintendents in West Virginia. The superintendent of the marina has an annual salary range of $80,000 to $117,000. The construction superintendent makes $95,000 to $125,000. The super at the asphalt company makes between $50,000 and $130,000.
Salaries are commensurate with experience for all of these positions. In every case, the superintendent is asked to run an organization with specific priorities and protocols, and is expected, as a leader, to have experience and expertise.
Whatever that organization is, the leader must attend to safety, policy, communications, personnel, funds and facilities.

Erich May is superintendent of Morgan County School District in the eastern panhandle of  West Virginia.