When my home town built a new school in the early ’70’s, a whole era vanished in concert with the disappearance of gilded letters proclaiming the “Superintendent’s Office” within. I never did figure out what a “Superintendent” was and I was always vaguely disappointed that wing, located near the “big kid” 6th graders’ realm and understood as an entity, would forevermore be inaccessible for future deciphering.

Only now does it come to me that ambiguity is and perhaps always has been, an essential component of the concept. The term “Superintendent” incorporates both a job and a person, the embodiment of supremacy. Vaguely menacing and redolent with Authority, I never have received a satisfying explanation of the post. But I could hear in its reference by adults, a bewildering mixture of fear, contempt, disdain and obeisance. It seems the curiosity of the concept remains even today, quite independent of its iconography.

I do not believe I am alone in my confusion about what a “superintendent” is or does. Earlier in his term our Superintendent Deasy, appointed leader of the second largest unified school district in the country, lectured his own school board about their purpose. Delimiting his own nominal bosses’ role as setting policy, he made it abundantly clear that in his view any attempt at scrutiny of operations amounted to “micromanagement”, or encroachment on the turf of superintendency.

This concept of an eclipsing administrative hierarchy induces the same ambivalence then as now. Why do administrators need administering? When there are too many Chiefs and not enough Indians (an idiom decoupled from, and intended with no disrespect for, Native Americans), at some point their service inclines from support, toward service in justification of self.

And therein lies the problem. A big, complicated system does need organizing. But once the organizing is tended to, excess among the managerial tier starts reinforcing itself rather than tending its supporting structure.

It’s the same problem noted among our modern quasi-professional political class; most of our elected’s time is spent bolstering reelection at the expense of faithful representation. Derivative, self-serving justification rather than direct, conscientious public service.

In service of “doing what is best for the youth of LAUSD”, as John Deasy maps the road ahead, it is necessary for our school district to have a “super” leader focused “like a laser” on … teaching kids. Not acquiring expensive technology or teaching to a commercially motivated testing schema or ideologically revamping the American workplace or even redressing social injustice.

The task of a school district is to teach kids and the task of its Top Teacher is to sustain a workplace where teachers can teach our kids. This requires among other things, clean, small classrooms, resources and resource-specialists, school-level administrators and clerical staff, counselors and artists and musicians, nurses and psychologists, industrial and vocational engineers. All amenities that John Deasy has spent his tenure explaining away. It requires utilizing money efficiently, not wasting it on expensive gadgets with questionable pedagogical value languishing in closets. Think: “ipadgate”. It requires careful husbandry of a data management system that sustains its institution not sabotages it. My eye spies MiSiS mournfully.

And so what is the task of those tasked with staffing the Super’s slot?

That position must be filled with someone who secures the structure beneath. Not usurps it, not defrauds it, not debases it. The task of the school board is to indemnify the education of kids. They are tasked with holding an individual accountable for supporting education SUPERlatively. It seems abundantly clear that the current choice has fallen short in this regard. It seems as well clear that a more viable candidate needs to be vetted far, far more thoroughly than last time. And the next candidate needs to be aligned with kids’ needs not commercial needs.

In this vast land of ours is it really so difficult to find a SUPERintendent? Perhaps the deafening silence of our superintendent’s former allies (Villaraigosa, Broad, CLASS, UWGLA, Garcetti) following this past week’s revelations of malfeasance suggests the appointers have started the search already.