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Transition Advice:

Don’t Leave Behind a Mess   



With four years still left on my contract, I made a career move out of the superintendency last December. An unsolicited job opportunity to head the educational administration program at a nearby college offered a rare opportunity to apply my personal knowledge in new ways.

After so many years in a community leadership role, including 37 years as superintendent, I wanted to make sure my departure was handled gracefully. What you say and do at the end will far outweigh what you said and did when you first came to that superintendency.

With my transition so fresh, I offer this advice for what worked well for me.

Give first notice to the board. Before telling anyone outside of your own family, you must inform board members of your decision to leave for another post. And ask your new employer for the professional courtesy of refraining from any announcement until you have informed your board.

Set your calendar. Before telling the board of your decision, finalize the date when you plan to leave, how you want to use remaining vacation days, etc. Look at these carefully to avoid embarrassing scheduling conflicts.

Tell others. Decide how to inform school personnel, preferably your secretary first, then fellow administrators, faculty and staff. Your board probably will reserve the right to make announcements to the community, so discuss this with the board president.

Don’t lighten up your load. You may see the light at the end of the tunnel, but important work remains to be addressed. Just as a football quarterback usually is remembered by his last season, so it is with the superintendent.

Resist burning bridges. Figuring you’ll never be back that way again, why not tell off a few people who made your life trying? It’s a temptation, but you always want to leave on good terms with as many people as possible.

Thank everyone. The acronym TEAM stands for Together Everyone Achieves More. Leave with an attitude of gratitude. Many individuals helped make you successful.

Create a to-do list. At the point you announce your pending departure, make a complete checklist of tasks that need completion with you on board. Ask your secretary and school board president for input. Nothing is worse for your reputation than leaving a job undone. Share the completed checklist with your board and others who need to know what’s been done, including the incoming superintendent.

Extend a hand to the newcomer. Offer to help your successor in whatever way he or she and the board feels appropriate during transition time. Usually no one can answer questions for the new person as well as the person who has just done the job. But telling your replacement how you think things should be done is not a good idea.

Don’t leave your office a mess. Leave things in good order for the new superintendent.

Return public property. You may need to sign off on forms showing you returned all district-owned equipment, such as a laptop and cell phone, plus your office keys, credit cards and ID badges. Once you’re gone and a piece of equipment turns up missing, guess who might take the hit? Turn in your last expense-reimbursement request form to the business manager.

Share the secret codes. Whatever buzzwords TV and radio outlets require superintendents to use when delivering school cancellation announcements owing to bad weather should be passed along discreetly to the successor.

Remember: When you’re gone, you’re gone. Don’t be one of those former superintendents who keeps showing up at all the school events like you never left office. This just makes people nervous. If you do attend some events at your former workplace, withhold your opinions on any school-related matter.

Robert Zorn is director of the graduate school at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa. E-mail: zornrl@westminster.edu


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