Solving the wrong problem

Tom Galvin and I first met at a sectional finals boys’ basketball game when we were both high school principals. He was in his fifth year as principal of Rosemont High School, and I was a principal in year 12 at a high school 30 miles east of Rosemont.
Neither of our schools’ basketball teams had made it to the sectionals, but we both knew the rival principals whose schools were playing so we came to the game to see how the contest would turn out for our colleagues’ schools.

Tom was the adult version of “big man on campus.” With his six foot three inch athletic frame, wavy black hair and good looks, he was a charmer with a good sense of humor, a “natural born leader,” if such a thing exists. He kidded loudly with the other high school principals sitting together in the stands as he made fun of our teams’ athletic ineptitudes and coaching disasters that had led to our status as spectators at this game. What made his kidding tolerable was the way he made comments about his own team’s missteps with the same gusto that he criticized ours.

The next time I saw Tom was 10 years later at a superintendents’ statewide conference. I was heading toward an early retirement from my superintendent duties precipitated by my first heart attack and heart surgery, and Tom was in the middle of his seventh year as a superintendent at Rosemont where he had moved up to the superintendent position at age 39 directly from his position in the district as high school principal.

We ended up at dinner together with a bunch of other superintendents with Tom seated next to me. He still showed the same wit, charm and people skills I had seen much earlier in his career, but he seemed more subdued, not as engaged in the conversation as he was 10 years earlier at the basketball game.
He asked if we could meet for lunch on the next and final day of the conference so he could get my thoughts on “some issues in my district,” he said. As one of the senior superintendents with one of the largest school districts in the region, such requests were not unusual so I agreed.
At lunch Tom opened up more than he had in our previous encounters. He had been an excellent high school athlete in football and basketball and captain of both teams his senior year in high school. He had gone to the State University of New York at Cortland and majored in history and social studies education while playing football on their very competitive Division III team. His simple career plan was to become a high school social studies teacher and football coach.
When Tom entered the teaching profession in 1978 his skill set and aspirations lined up nicely with the needs of a number of suburban school systems like Rosemont and he landed his dream job that summer. For 10 years, he was a successful football coach. He was also a respected social studies teacher for the first seven of these years and then assistant principal for the last three of these years.

In his 10 years of coaching, Tom’s football teams had winning records every year, made it to the sectional playoffs eight of the years and won the sectional B class title twice, something that never happened in Rosemont before Tom’s arrival.

Academics: an afterthought of school “leadership” click here
 (Sections in italics are fictional stories based on composites of multiple actual experiences.)