GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Tawana Grover said it was a little surprising when she visited Howard Elementary in Grand Island, Nebraska, during the students’ first day of school this past July 11 and heard several teachers tell their kids that Grover was the “boss” of the school.
Grover said she realized that the Howard students certainly knew what their teacher does in the classroom each and every day, and most were equally familiar with the school’s principal, Julie Schnitzler, and her role in making Howard a welcoming place for them and their parents.
She believes that it was Deb Glover’s first-grade classroom at Howard where the teacher very enthusiastically introduced her as the boss, with Glover’s first-graders seemingly impressed by the fact they were meeting the boss of an entire school system.
However, Grover said she also thought that although young students might understand the idea of a boss, they still might have difficulty understanding what a boss does in a big school system like Grand Island, which has many schools scattered throughout the city.
Grover, who was just 11 days into her first job as a school superintendent, also realized that she was not accustomed to being described as a boss. In addition to introducing herself to GIPS students, she also was in the process of introducing herself to community members, as well as all the teachers, administrators and other staff members.
She said that even though she may be the so-called boss, “I do believe in a shared vision, as well as a collaborative working relationship with all of our stakeholders. I thought I have to do something about this.”
She wanted both students and teachers to know more about her.
“Teachers have no idea of what type of personality I’m going to bring, and what’s my leadership style,” Grover said.
Many teachers participated in the interview process to select the new superintendent for the district, but that is still different from having the new superintendent actually on the job and being part of the school district every day.
She said all those thoughts inspired her to write a poem to help describe her, as well as what she views as the duties of a school superintendent in today’s world. One portion of those duties is ensuring that tests and curriculum are aligned, which seems to be an issue that increasingly preoccupies superintendents, as well as building principals and teachers.
Grover said she delivered that poem during the annual all-staff assembly that welcomes all teachers, counselors, administrators and other staff members back for the start of another school year. She then decided to turn it into a children’s book called “Super-Boss-Intendent ... Where the Journey Begins.” That timing meant that she created the book in about a month.
She noted that the tenure for superintendents sometimes is very short in today’s world. So superintendents have a responsibility as leaders in the field to be able to share as much information with aspiring superintendents and educational leaders as possible by describing their experiences at work.
Although the illustrated paperback is written in the form of a children’s book, Grover said she thinks both kids and adults can read it to get insight into the job of a school superintendent.
“I oftentimes use children’s books in my training or presentations,” she said. “It’s just a way that you can connect with the audience before you in a very engaging way.”
Grover noted that when she was interviewed by the Grand Island school board for the superintendent’s job, she read from the children’s book “You’re Here for a Reason.” She thought the book was appropriate for the occasion as she was seeking to make a move to a new state and a new opportunity.
She said she recently shared the children’s book “What Do You Do With a Problem?” with building principals and district administrators. One of that book’s themes is that the longer a problem is ignored, the bigger it usually becomes. Another theme is that problems can be turned around and made into opportunities.
Grover said she only had to make minor changes in her “Super-Boss-Intendent” poem to get it to fit into the book’s 20-page format for illustrations and story. That does not count the copyright and dedication page, as well as the front and back covers of the book.
In “Super-Boss-Intendent,” she uses verse to describe the duties of a new superintendent as she sees them. Although the poetry describes the role all superintendents play in their school districts, “Super-Boss-Intendent” is in many ways a very specific description of Grover and the Grand Island school district.
The book opens by noting that “a lady came from miles and miles away.” Grover came to Grand Island from her job as an administrator with the DeSoto Independent School District in DeSoto, Texas, which is a suburb on the southwestern side of Dallas.
The book then describes Grover’s initial listening tour as she met with Grand Island residents in schools, churches and other locations.
Her book refers to the Super-Boss-Intendent working with the board of education and making classroom visits to see both teachers and students. It also describes meeting “with students of many languages,” which certainly describes the Grand Island school district, as well as meeting with boys and girls who “have come to this school from many places” — another accurate description of the Grand Island Public Schools.
During her narrative, Grover used a six-word phrase that could only come from the Grand Island school district: “Every student, every day, a success.”
Through her book, she hopes she makes it clear that students should always be the center of any superintendent’s focus. That focus on students includes not just the time they spend in the school district, but also who they will become as adults after high school graduation.
Grover said the next-to-last illustration of students crossing a stage to receive their high school diplomas — as well as the verse that accompanies that illustration — is a culmination of everything she has described in the book to that point.