It’s a two-for-one deal that’s likely unprecedented in Alaska. This fall when students and teachers return to the Sitka School District they’ll be greeted not by one assistant superintendent — but two.
Phil Burdick and Sarah Ferrency have most recently been job-sharing as co-principals of Pacific High, Sitka’s alternative high school.
Now, the husband-and-wife team will try their winning formula in the highest levels of district administration.
Phil Burdick and Sarah Ferrency are serious about splitting their work. They sit at the same desk, and answer the same phone — but never at the same time.
Just tracking them down would challenge even a sleuth like Inspector Clouseau.
Clouseau – What is your name?
Man – I’m Chalk, the gardener.
Clouseau – What do you do?
Man – I’m the gardener.
Clouseau – Why didn’t you say that to me in the first place?
Ferrency – It’s this funny thing, where we are one person and you never see Phil and Sarah in the same room together. If you’re one person, you can’t be in two places at once. We try to set those boundaries… It took us a couple of days for us to get together in the same room to make the phone call back to her, and then she floated this idea.
Ferrency says she thought they were in trouble when district superintendent Mary Wegner left a message that she’d like to speak to the two of them — at the same time.
Instead, it was to offer them a promotion to the district office. Burdick says he was shocked at first.
Ferrency, though, could see the logic in it.
“We have really complementary skill sets. Together our skills are the complete package. We’re better at more things than any one person ever is. You have people who are head people, and you have heart people. He’s the heart and I’m the head, and together we’ve got it all covered.”
School administrators in Sitka — anywhere for that matter — work extraordinarily long hours. The days are often bookended by meetings, and in between are the challenges of supporting teachers and families.
Burdick says job-sharing brings extra capacity to school administration.
“Two people doing one job is really one person doing a job-and-a-half. Because we only have half a day, we have to be efficient to get it all done. So in the course of a day we get more done than one person could because it takes too much energy, too much mental space.”
And then there’s this whole heart and head thing: Ferrency and Burdick are not being figurative. It defines their working relationship.
Ferrency – I do numbers. I do boxes. I do reports. I do technical writing. I make the case for people to give us money. I cross t’s and dot i’s. And I create systems, and…
Burdick – I make connections with outside agencies, with families, with kids. Everyone thinks that I agree with them all the time. And so I am the sounding board. I gave the commencement speech this year for Pacific High’s graduation, and it was all about invitation. One of my strengths as the heart is being able to invite people in — as often as it takes — until they just say yes.
The pair admits that having two players in one role sometimes has a downside. Ferrency says a parent might come to Pacific High hoping to see Burdick and, because he’s established trust, that parent may not want to meet with her. But if someone has a grievance with one of them — a staff member, for instance — they could take it to the superintendent.
And they’ve found a way to make it work, although the head and heart don’t necessarily agree on how long.
KCAW – So how long have you been co-principals at Pacific High?
Burdick – 4 years.
Ferrency – This is our fifth year. Because we started the year Iona was born.
Burdick – And she’s 4.
Ferrency – And she’s turning 5 in September.
Burdick – So next year would have been our fifth.
Ferrency – 2010-11, 11-12, 12-13, 13-14, 14-15. Our fifth year, and her fifth year.
Burdick – All I know is that I love my job. I don’t know how long I’ve been doing it!
The couple typically divide their days: He takes 7:30 AM to noon; she takes noon to 5. But now that their daughters are a bit older — and given the expanded responsibilities of the job of assistant superintendent — they say it may be possible to find them working in the same room at the same time. But you may have to be a Clouseau to spot them.
Clouseau – And there is a very good chance that someone in this room knows more about the murder than he is telling.
Woman – Murder?
Clouseau – What was that you said?
Woman – I said murder.
Clouseau – Murder? What murder?