Interim superintendent Paul Spaventa at Sterling Regional High School likes his job, he told me in an interview last week about an entirely different subject. He has no desire, he said, to take on the job permanently -- the interim position is fine with him and when he gets done with that post, he hopes he can land another interim slot.

"It keeps the school district on track," he said. "I make the decisions and keep things moving."

As we chatted, I told him about how interim pastors fill an important role in the Presbyterian Church. When a minister in my denomination leaves, or is asked to leave, a search committee first hires an interim pastor. The interim comes with no expectation of filling the vacancy. In fact, the interim has important roles that would be impossible if the position were actually a dress rehearsal for the permanent gig.

If the departing pastor was well-loved and charismatic, the next real pastor who gets the job is bound to fail if he starts immediately on the heels of the dearly-departed. He or she can never hope to match up. The interim pastor, who will usually serve for about a year, maybe longer, absorbs the congregation's loss and provides enough of a break to give the next minister a chance.

If the departing pastor was less than loved and a divisive force in the congregation, the interim pastor, somewhat ignorant of church politics, can help break down factions, restoring enough of a calm to allow the new pastor to rebuild from neutral ground.

Spaventa said that many of the same considerations apply in schools. Sometimes, he said, there is a tough political situation between the administration and the board, but the interim superintendent isn't caught up in the fracas. Sometimes, he said, an interim superintendent can provide a fresh perspective to a board or an administration paralyzed by old grudges and points-of-view. The interim's very presence, he said, upsets, perhaps in a good way, old loyalties, and allows a fresh start.

Located in Somerdale, Sterling serves students from Somerdale, Magnolia, Stratford, Hi-Nella and Laurel Springs. Students from other districts also attend the school, which has about 950 students, in grades nine through 12.