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A day in the life of... superintendent-principals

October 20, 2012
By Stephen Anderson ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

BARAGA - If you want a 9-to-5 job, don't become a superintendent or principal.

Jennifer Lynn performs both duties at Baraga Area Schools - as the district's highest level administrator and grades K-2 principal - and now in her second year in the dual role, she knows all too well there's no such thing as a typical day on the job.

"One day is never the same as the day before. Between the building responsibilities and the district responsibilities you could have any range of meetings from principals' roundtables to superintendents' roundtables to going to Washington, D.C., and meeting with our Congressmen," Lynn said. "It really is a range from kindergarten to Congress. ... There isn't a typical day other than the alarm clock going off early every morning."

Article Photos

Daily Mining Gazette/Stephen Anderson
Baraga Area Schools Superintendent and Grades K-2 Principal Jennifer Lynn discusses an issue during a Baraga Area Schools Board of Education meeting earlier this year. The school board is just one of many meetings Lynn attends during a typical week.

And by early she means between 4:30 and 5 a.m., assuming it's not earlier due to a teacher calling in sick, a security concern or a potential weather issue.

Next up: Coffee at home.

By 6:45, she's on the road, passing by Java by the Bay in L'Anse for some more coffee.

"Coffee is essential!" Lynn said.

She's in the library or cafeteria by 7:30 a.m. with students or meeting with staff or parents in her office, and by 8, elementary students load up at the main school building to travel to Pelkie Elementary School, where Lynn often spends a majority of her time during the school year.

Once the school day starts, it's anyone's guess what Lynn might be doing, but it often includes central office time while wearing her superintendent's hat. After lunch from the cafeteria, which she usually eats on the go or at her desk, she'll head to Pelkie and switch hats, fulfilling principal duties such as classroom observations - "I've been in all the classrooms this year and looking at specific things we had discussed in school improvement" - meetings, discipline or parent contacts.

"If I'm not available right away for a question at Pelkie, we have a lead teacher who is extremely experienced," Lynn said. "Really, the office support staff knowing how to respond until I'm there is good. People are very respectful of the fact that my time is being demanded."

Then it's either monitoring buses at the main building or meeting with Pelkie staff. But even that's something she can't lock herself into.

"If you have to be addressing something, then you can't do that," she said, based off some advice she received from another administrator. "If it's something you can delegate, you need to do that."

When students head home at the end of the school day, Lynn's day is really just beginning, and it varies more than during class hours.

She splits game supervisor responsibilities with grades 3-12 Principal Jon Young and Athletic Director Jeff Markham, and balances a heavy meeting load - school board, committees and Individual Education Plans for special education students, for example - that often takes up at least three evenings a week.

"It's pretty typical to get home between 8 and 10, depending on evening activities. Then there's activities outside the district, like being involved in civic-type organizations and representing the school and find out what's happening," she said. "Mr. Young shares some of that, he meets with the Baraga County Community Foundation, so having a principal in another building that carries his weight is huge and then some.

"I usually try to get home by dinner time, 5 or 6, once a week. That's my rule of thumb."

As if the two, or three or more hats she wears aren't enough, Lynn is also a doctoral student in Central Michigan University's educational leadership program, which involves traveling to Traverse City every other weekend. She's about halfway through her pursuit of the "practitioner's doctorate," applying current theory and research in the field. She currently has a bachelor's in elementary education (2001) and a master of arts in education (2007) through Northern Michigan University.

"The professors in that program really understand the big picture and have been really supportive of it," she said. "But if something has really slowed down, it's my grad school."

And then there's the all-important family time with her twin daughters, who are both juniors at Baraga High School.

"It makes it easier to be committed to the district when your children are invested in the district, too," she said. "If the district doesn't run well, or right, my family is directly affected with the education of the kids."

Lynn clearly spins a lot of plates at once, but it's the kind of job she loves.

"I started working when I was 14 years old, and I've always worked long days," she said. "I did have a 9 to 5 job once in a library. I loved, loved, loved the job, but oh my gosh, did I need to get back into actually being in a school. It was just too calm, and too steady. It was wonderfully relaxing, but that's just not the way I'm wired."

She does feel things will become more predictable now that she's in her second year in the position, knowing that she can rely on other people, she doesn't have to answer every question, she can delegate and she has a grasp of the district's history. Nonetheless, there's never a typical day in the life of a superintendent-principal.

"It's just part of being involved in the life of the community, and that's what the school is here for,"?Lynn said. "I don't know if that's because the job demands it or if that's what I bring to the job."



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