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Handing out diplomas marks the beginning of a summer of work Handing out diplomas marks the beginning of a summer of work

What I did on my summer vacation

Each year when I returned to class in the Tacoma Public Schools my new teacher would invariably ask me to write a brief essay with the inspirational title: What I Did On My Summer Vacation. This was usually a fairly easy task for me. In fact, I could almost use the same essay every year.

Living in a family of six siblings, one summer had a tendency to look very similar to the next. Being the second oldest sibling further reinforced the day-to-day chorus of the hot season. Get up, eat a bowl of Frosted Flakes, or hotcakes on my mother’s day off, then head outside. If my mother was home it was free time to hang out and play baseball on the street corner, mow the lawn, weed the garden, paint the fence; whatever chores my father assigned for the day. If my mother worked breakfast looked the same, but on these days I rode herd on siblings Vickie, Rickie, Georgie and Kathie. Oldest sister Cheri was around to help from time to time, but she wisely found a summer job. As a result, my school essay was a carbon copy from one summer to the next. Despite the seeming monotony, I loved those summers!

At age 58, I am still asked what I did on my summer vacation. Community members, relatives, and friends all ask me the same question. One even asked me if my job was full time. I don’t mind the question, as I am used to it after all of these years. Even my parents would ask me from time to time, “What do you do during the summer?” Vickie, Rickie, Georgie and Kathie are all grown up and yet the summer work hasn’t disappeared.

The first misconception I try to correct is that as your school superintendent, I do not enjoy three months off. Nor do I enjoy two months off. Frankly, there is not one month off. My job is similar to most others in our community in that I have a set amount of vacation time that I earn. This summer I set myself somewhat free from the office for about one week. That felt pretty good until Kathie and Rickie showed up!

So, what did I do on my summer vacation and what do most superintendents do during this “quiet” time?

Catch Up—When graduations conclude in the second week of June, a collective sigh of relief occurs. My necktie comes off so I am not identified as the only fellow in northern Idaho with a tie. This makes me feel almost like a local and changes my mindset. The final two weeks of the month are spent reviewing evaluations with principals and directors, completing state reports, winding up budget information, interviewing new employees, and trying to clear the desk of reading material, papers, and the accumulation of the nine month school year. I suspect some would argue that I do not need “Catch Up” time, but think of building a house or any other project. There is always cleaning up to do.

Worry—July was pretty much a great time to worry. I know people who like to fish, hike, read, garden, etc. Me? I get the opportunity to worry at work during the month of July. What do I worry about? Test scores, building projects, and budgets. The good news is our test scores were the highest they have ever been, so my worrying went for naught. On the other hand, our community expects these scores to rise, and if they do not, they assume the schools are doing a poor job. That gives me cause to worry.

Arriving next is the Adequate Yearly Progress report from the federal government and the No Child Left Behind legislation. I am proud to report that 10 of our 11 schools made AYP; not an easy task. As I like to say, we are good and intent on getting better. Our work tends to be judged by the public on student performance, fairly or not. I am happy we performed well, but this nervousness continues.

The other worry is our building projects at Kootenai Elementary and Sagle Elementary. Even though we are on time and under budget, the work still leaves me anxious. It has been 20 years since a Plant and Facility levy was approved in our community and we are determined to get it right for our students, staff and community so everyone understands that our district can bring a project of this scope to a conclusion that all can support. Consequently, there were many trips to the jobsites, meetings with contractors and architects, and reviewing the value of change orders. Again, when a house is being built, vigilance regarding the work is imperative.

Plan—Principals, teachers, and parents begin to realize in August, because of “Back to School” sales, that school will start anew in September.  As a result, August becomes “Meeting Month” in the life of a superintendent. It seems like every day there are meetings; one streaming into the next. However, I enjoy August as it is a time to reconnect with people I value, proactively address problems, and do everything we can to make for a smooth and productive school year.

Finally, that worry returns for the first day of school. Will enrollment be up or down? If it is up, will class sizes grow to the point of needing a new staff member? If it is down we will lose state funding. Will a kindergartener be lost on the first day? Will the buses be on time...?

Frankly, I am happy summer vacation is over so I can stop worrying so much! Have a great school year.

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Author info

Dick Cvitanich Dick Cvitanich is the Superintendent of Schools for the Lake Pend Oreille School District. He has been an educator for 33 years, and became superintendent for LPOSD in 2006. He was educated at the University of Washington where he earned a BA in History and a Superintendent's Credential. He has been married to Diane for 32 years and they have raised three sons who "taught us as much as we taught them." "I have a passion for public education and the role it plays in our democracy. In my free time I read, ski ... come to think of it, I don't have that much free time."

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