About this time of year, some of our colleagues begin counting down to retirement – not in days, weeks, or months – but in Board meetings. If you are one of these fortunate few, now that it’s November, it may be 7, 14, or (gasp) 28, but in any case, the end of your sterling career is near. July 1 will be here in the blink of an eye so our HYA team would like to offer some advice.
You have undoubtedly left a lasting legacy in your district, and to preserve your good work, it is important to have a plan in place – ideally well before you intend to retire. Do you have an internal successor ready to step into the role? Is there a colleague outside your district you would like to recruit? Does your Board want to do a search, and if so, will it be statewide, regional, or national? Because hiring the next superintendent is the most important decision the Board will make, we recommend that you help guide them on the front end. Your leadership and engagement early in the process will be key to leadership continuity and stability.
While our firm excels at finding outstanding superintendent candidates, we are finding that the teacher shortage in most states has extended to principals and superintendents as well. Good leaders willing to change jobs are especially hard to find. In fact, if you have a system that develops leaders – a trait we see as highly important and desirable in superintendents – and has a qualified candidate, our firm would rather support your new leader with our expert Associates serving as coaches and mentors rather than conduct a full-scale search. Likewise, there are many advantages to handing off your district to a known, trusted colleague from another district who will put his or her own stamp on your district while still keeping your initiatives and contributions intact. With a strong internal candidate or a trusted colleague ready to fill your shoes, a large-scale search will likely be a waste of time and money. However, we know that oftentimes boards want a search in order to “see what’s out there.” We are ready to help them but advise you to first help your Board help themselves by developing a strong bench and/or succession recruiting plan.
As tempting as it will be to return to visit your district, keep in contact with those you have served and led, and stay current on district communications, we advise you to let go sooner than later. Ideally, on July 2nd. Your life will change drastically the day you leave – emails, phone calls, and problems will not be stacked up – and you will not have any control over events. Moreover, you will inevitably get blamed for something going wrong and it will hurt, so we think it best to say your goodbyes and don’t look back. The transition from full throttle to slow idle happens so quickly that it will likely be discomforting if you have not planned to fill that void with some activity – a vacation, a house project, checking an adventure off your bucket list, or writing that article you started months or years ago. When I finally retired, the first thing I did was take my 14 year-old grandson out of school to spend a week driving from the West coast to the Midwest with plenty of stops for all sorts of excellent adventures including giving him his first driving lesson on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Not that was a productive transition!
Take time figuring out what to do, but not too much time. Explore opportunities for becoming a superintendent in another state, filling an interim position, or finding a job you like in a place you love (my close friend Tony has spent 10 years since retirement ushering and supervising ushers at Wrigley Field … and he has his own World Series ring to show for it). You may want to consider coaching, mentoring, or sharing your particular expertise with schools and districts. At HYA, we are eager to expand our network of independent consultants and help them grow their business in what interests them most including community engagement, strategic planning, operations support, curriculum audits, social emotional learning projects, and many more.
“Thank you for your service,” is a phrase most often used for the military but one that well befits our retiring school and district leaders. You, too, have made countless sacrifices to advance the quality of life for others for years to come. With a succession plan for your district and moving on plan for yourself, we are confident that the next phase of your life will be equally as fulfilling.