Answering to 17 Boards Over 2,000 Square Miles
BY WILLIAM P. BRAUN/School Administrator, October 2018
What’s the key to managing a school district made up of 16 separate districts and an administrative unit? Organization and delegation for starters. An understanding wife and sense of humor also carry me through each day.
I thoroughly enjoy the daily challenges of leading the Eastern Maine Area School System, an alternative organizational structure known in Maine simply as AOS 90, located over 2,000 square miles in the state’s northeastern region. The district encompasses 16 town school systems and an AOS governing board. (An AOS is a combination of two or more school administrative units joined together for the purpose of providing administrative services.)
My typical work week includes three days in one of the two central offices and two days in the other. Periodic school visits and other meetings usually tally about 500 miles of travel time during the week.
I keep in mind one simple goal — to leave each district better than it was when I began.
I start each day by redoing the priority list. Priorities can differ widely from day to day because I maintain two offices 56 miles apart. That drive has its advantages, offering an opportunity to rethink and re-plan each day. On one side of the district, I am closing an elementary school and on the other I am planning for $3.6 million of school repairs and $2 million of construction.
The role of superintendent in such a widespread area changes your perspective of responsibilities. You find yourself very dependent on your building administrators and staff.
That brings utmost importance to communication and the capacity to define the strengths of your employees so you can entrust them with specific tasks. In my past positions, I was never good at giving up total control, but in this leadership post, I must be very flexible and able to delegate to capable staff. This has forced a change in my management style.
As superintendent, I must delegate the delivery of education and staff training to my administrators. While I remain the budget developer, I place great emphasis on the principals to identify their needs. I work with the various school boards and oversee maintenance of buildings and buses. I am available via phone and computer, if not in person, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The weather certainly keeps you on your toes when you’re responsible for a district so spread out. It could be sunny on one side while the other is experiencing blizzard conditions. It is another challenge you meet with a smile, beginning with calls to bus drivers, maintenance employees and administrators at 3 a.m. with the final decision on operating and notifications to area television and radio outlets by 5 a.m. I advise my building administrators to keep a healthy perspective as tomorrow may well make today look like a picnic.
With 17 boards and a total of 60 board members, I consider much of the challenge lies in organization and preparation. The organization includes remembering which goals and issues each board is addressing and ensuring my schedule can handle each board effectively. Some days I do feel as if I am reporting to 17 different bosses.
I maintain an online calendar, and a schedule board in each of the offices so at a quick glance my staff members and I know what is coming in the near and distant future. I’m advantaged in having expertise and experience in both central offices. It’s also good fortune that they, too, have a sense of humor.
WILLIAM BRAUN is superintendent of AOS 90 in Baileyville, Maine.