Some school administrators go a whole career without encountering the tumult that new Superintendent Barb Rains has endured in the past nine months.
Rains started 2011 as the district's director of human resources. changed everything, and she was appointed first acting, then interim and finally permanent superintendent for the district. .
Moving into the new year, Rains faces another challenge: Developing ways to eliminate a more than $2 million deficit in the 2012-13 budget. In January, . This continues at Wednesday's 7 p.m. board meeting at .
Patch sat down with Rains at the end of December for a one-on-one interview, discussing her philosophical approaches to the position, dealing with the legacy of the former superintendent and trying to increase communication throughout the district. This is Part 1 of that interview. , and Rains will answer questions submitted by readers.
PATCH: Overall, how would you describe the qualities a superintendent needs to be effective as a leader and an administrator? What kinds of things do you keep in mind as you go about your day in this role?
RAINS: I think the biggest priority is I need to support our staff because of their direct impact on the children in the classroom. If the staff feels supported and valued, it shows. And the kids reap those benefits through engagement, through passionate lessons, through all the extra efforts they give to those kids.
You have one chance to make the difference in that child's life and if the child has a bad experience in second grade, that's going to stay with the child. So the goal is to ensure that all teachers, all grade levels, all specialists know that I'm going to support them. I believe they call it the trickle-down effect because they're going to see me being passionate about the school district. They're going to know I'm there to benefit them or to help support them.
They say a lot of times a superintendent should be a cheerleader. A superintendent should be a collaborator. Should be a person who's knowledgeable in various aspects--financial, curriculum, human resources. The superintendent needs to be all those things, but more importantly, the superintendent needs to have a genuine passion for student learning. And I think that that's the key to being successful. Because your job is ensuring that everybody is heard and the best decisions made.
PATCH: What made you decide to put in your application for interim superintendent?
RAINS: I truly believed I could help make a difference here. I truly believed we can strengthen the (educational) processes and the children even further.
PATCH: Were you surprised at Mr. Pain's sudden announcement to retire?
RAINS: (Pause) With what was happening at board meetings and at the board table, no. (Pause) How do I phrase this? Because I really-- Mr. Pain created his own path and followed his own path on what he needed, both personally and professionally. As things were unfolding at the board table and our protocols were not being followed as closely as they were in the past, for example. ... When those started to disintegrate, I knew something was going to change. And as you can see now, when i came on board, the first thing I wanted to develop, redevelop, reinstitute, was the protocol at the board table, which has actually worked very well. Basically, it's our chain of command.
PATCH: Did you feel like you were under the shadow of Mr. Pain? (Board member) Stacey Borgens publicly said she felt hesitant to have you step in as interim superintendent. Because your previous role was the right hand--
RAINS: My role was I was following the lead of the superintendent. So if the superintendent said, "We are eliminating this," my job was to make that happen. So I was the face of that occurrence. And that's a much different view than what I'm doing now. I'm doing that as part of my job, but I'm making the choices of the delivery, and that's the difference. My delivery could be viewed as much different to the previous superintendent's delivery. Even though I know what A to B needs to be, it's the path I take to get to B that is noticeably different, I believe.
PATCH: In the past you were the messenger, you were the face. How did your mindset have to change from going to the person delivering the message to the person who was creating the message?
RAINS: It's just crafting it differently for people. You wear a different hat. You're in a different role, and you continue to be who you are and walk the talk. In this district and other districts I've worked in, if people came up and commented they would say, "You're genuine. You're professional." And those are two very important characteristics, and I'm very proud that they say that.
PATCH: OK, I want to get this on the record: When you were doing both roles--interim superintendent and human resources--what were your hours? (Laughs)
RAINS: Let me put it a different way: When I was doing all three with interim on top and curriculum director as well, I don't think I saw the sun this summer. (Laughs)
It was a lot of work, but as I think back, I guess I didn't realize how much time I was putting in. My family did (laughs), but I don't, because I was so in tune to ensuring that we start off successfully this school year and that we bridge all this turmoil that is associated with a leadership transition. I was so focused on it that I can tell you I don't think I saw the sun because I would go to work in the dark and come home in the dark (laughs), and it would be this immersion into the issues at hand. Change is traumatic in any setting, and i just took the changes one at a time ... because when you're so immersed in it, it's just coming at you, and you're reacting as best you can.
PATCH: What was like that to sit at the board table and people talking about your job and saying, "Don't take offense to this-- "
RAINS: (Laughs) "This is not about you-- "
PATCH: Exactly. "This is not about you." Then they go on and spit venom.
RAINS: I didn't take it personally. It was a professional meeting, and it was professionally handled at the board table. And it was part of my role as the interim to bridge the transition, whatever it wound up to be, and that's what I signed up for.
PATCH: Do you feel (that criticism) sets up an additional challenge to have to re-establish yourself?
RAINS: Actually, it's a continuation for me. I can't tell you how many--had to be a hundred-plus e-mails the next day from parents, from staff, from former colleagues in other districts with such kind words of support, very kind words of support. Saying we're glad you're staying, you're doing a good job. It was a very smooth start to the school year. Probably the smoothest in many years. ... I could count the parent issues, the bus issues on one hand because we tried to take care of things before they got out of hand.
PATCH: Did it ever cross you mind not to pursue the permanent position?
RAINS: It was almost as if I needed to look at the interim position as a referendum. My goal was to heal the district in order for the greater good.
PATCH: You didn't think, "Well, I can just tend the position for the time being."
RAINS: No! I never thought I was just tending there! I was given an opportunity to lead the district. They were never going to get less than 100 percent each and every day. No matter if my opportunity was going to be short or it was going to be longer for an official contract. We have to move these children forward. We have to put things in place to keep this district rolling. I just knew that was my mindset and put it forward and so far so good. (Knocks on table)
You have to understand that there was no transition with Mr. Pain because of his departure. I literally was working minute to minute, then, with support, hour to hour, then day to day. Because when you jump in without a transition everything's a priority. I get up at quarter to five in the morning, and for an hour and a half, I organize my day, so that I can come in hitting the ground running, so I can take care of what needs to be taken care of.
And because people know you care and see your passion, they're very willing to support you. I can't tell you ... the staff members were there, "What do you need, Barb? What can I do for you?" The administrators as well.
We had a lot to overcome when you come to thing about it. There was a lot to bridge.
PATCH: Do you like the fit of the role? Does it suit you?
RAINS: I do, I do. It's such an exciting time in the educational world right now. I like having the ability to support people personally in terms of knowing what they need. Communication has been developed. Relationships have been developed. It's nice to be a mentor. The mentor role is very important to me, because I can tell you my mentors and they mean the world to me.
PATCH: What would you say to individuals unhappy with the process in which you were hired?
RAINS: Some of the people who were the most vocal I got emails from, and they said, "Please understand this is not about you. We just want ensure that the best candidate is hired as superintendent of the district." And I appreciated that. It meant a lot. I need to prove myself to them, that I am the best candidate.
PATCH: Do you feel that in a lot of respects that you're in the middle of something that's more than just the process?
RAINS: Some of it is politics, and that's OK. Politics are everywhere, and that's a good thing. I need to be the bridge between the politics and the outcome. I have seven bosses, and they're all passionate individuals who all have their path in mind. You have to come together to make it our path.
PATCH: Do you think your, for lack of a better term, drama-free attitude will rub off on the board in some way?
RAINS: I think it has. We've had several board meetings that the business was taken care of in a timely manner. Some other board meetings ... the business is taken care of and there might be an escalation. But it's not people yelling at each other. It's people being so passionate about their opinion for what's best for kids. It all boils down for what's best for kids. And that's how I view those board meetings. It's the meeting of the board that's held in public these are not public meetings. When they become public meetings then control is lost.
PATCH: Where does your passion for education come from?
RAINS: It's always been there. I've always looked forward to going to school. Now, my brothers would say, "Silly girl." But I would always look forward to going to school. I love to read.
PATCH: Are you a harsh self-critic?
RAINS: I take myself to task. Yes, I do. I reflect every night at how I could've made a conversation better in some way or some fashion. Or if I could rewind, what could I do differently. I do that every night. Because I think that makes me a better administrator when all things are said and done. Because we're all going to make mistakes. But it's the people who learn from them who will be further ahead.