George Mason Commencement Address by Daniel Domenech
My sincere congratulations to all of you for achieving yet another milestone in your education careers and my gratitude for your willingness to be leaders in our profession. Leadership is the theme of my address to you today. At a time when the quality of our educational systems seems to be under attack, endangering the future of public education, I look towards you with high hopes that you will lead us to make the changes that will transform education to meet the demands of the twenty-first century.
Let me say something that I am sure you have heard many times from your professors here at George Mason. There is a significant difference between managing and leading. I have no doubt that you have mastered the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively manage your classrooms, schools, and the departments you may now direct or will direct in the future. It is essential that every school administrator be an excellent manager and administrator. That is a given.
I am here, however, to exhort you to be more. I am here to beg you to be the leaders that will transform education as we know it today. To be the leaders that will see a student as something more than a score on a test. To be the leaders that understand that a child cannot learn if he or she comes to school hungry, or sick, or abused at home, or homeless or lacking any adult supervision. Or that the immigration police will arrest their parents and send them back to a country they have never known. Or children that fear that someone will walk into their school with a gun and shoot them. Be the leaders willing to provide all children with the safe and secure environment they are entitled to and with the opportunities they need to succeed.
As we continue to observe this month’s 64th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that struck down segregation in public schools, we must be mindful that much work still needs to be done on behalf of the millions of children growing and learning in our classrooms.
To quote Chief Justice Warren:
“In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he (or she) is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”
I couldn’t agree more.
We are now at a time when our schools are being torn apart by gun violence. We’re at a time when more than 50 percent of the children attending our schools are living in impoverished conditions. We’re at a time when we must scale up the dialogue in our country that we view every public school as the foundation of our communities.
From my May 2018 column in the School Administrator:
TIME CONTINUES to be a major regulator in education. The number of days a student must attend school is specified by law, usually around 180 days per school year. In many cases, the number of hours a student must be in school also is mandated, as are the hours in attendance required to get credit for a course.
These requirements came about with the best of policymakers’ intentions. Children could not learn if they were not in school and in the classroom, so we thought.
Today’s technology makes it possible for a student to learn any place and any time if there is a Wi-Fi connection. Nevertheless, the place and time requirements are still in place. Programs of study will specify a content that must be mastered at a particular grade level during the course of the school year. Children who exhibit mastery get promoted to the next grade level. The students who do not get to repeat the grade — not just the areas where they failed to achieve, but the entire grade content.
Managing Class Conduct Nonverbally By Daniel A. Domenech/School Administrator, April 2018
CLASSROOM CIVILITY can depend greatly on classroom management. Those of us who have spent time in the classroom fully recognize that little learning will take place in an out-of-control classroom.
In “The Key to Classroom Management” article in Educational Leadership (September 2003), Robert Marzano says research has shown us that “teachers’ actions in their classrooms have twice the impact on student achievement as do school policies regarding curriculum, assessment, staff collegiality and community involvement.”
Many strategies are available to teachers. I recently came upon a program that Pillager Elementary School in central Minnesota is implementing in their classrooms with impressive results. It is a classroom management model that combines nonverbal communication for both teaching and managing. The Pillager School District is within the region serviced by the National Joint Powers Alliance, a service agency with cooperative purchasing nationwide and one of AASA’s premier partners. NJPA is funding the training of Pillager staff in the use of the ENVoY nonverbal classroom management system.
AASA’s National Conference on Education officially kicks off this week and I am pleased to report that the 2018 edition will be our largest convening in more than 10 years. This tells me that more and more superintendents and other public school administrators across the country are eager to learn from one another, trade strategies, and discuss what is working on behalf of the more than 50 million students who are attending our public schools.
(Pictured from left to right: David Schuler, Amy Sieu, Daniel Domenech, Wendy Robinson, Mike Winstead.)
AASA, The School Superintendents Association, recently announced the four finalists for the 2018 Superintendent of the Year, a program graciously sponsored by VALIC and First Student. This is our opportunity to showcase four champions for children and put outstanding school district leaders from communities large and small on the national stage. It marks a time to place the spotlight on the superintendency — a profession I often say is the most difficult job in America, yet the most rewarding.
Whether you are in Scotland or in the U.S., the educational systems have many similarities. They include regulations, funding, hiring, teacher shortages, and the effects these issues have on teaching, learning, and ultimately student achievement. Traditional teaching and innovation are dispersed throughout Scotland as is the use of technology—quite similar to the diversity in educational approaches in our schools. We visited some very creative and personalized classrooms where students were actively engaged.
We had an opportunity to view private schools that were the very best that money can buy. We also viewed government schools that were not as fortunate. In many cases, however, the schools with limited funding still produced amazing results. We saw, as we see at home, that funding and resources can be critical in leveling the playing field.
[Pictured left to right: AASA President Gail Pletnick; AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech; AASA Past President Amy Sichel.]
A visit to Stewart’s Melville College in Edinburgh allowed us to get a close look at education at this private school for students (boys) ages 12-17. The school grounds were beautiful and the building radiated tradition.
The boys were smartly dressed in school uniforms that distinguished their rank or grade level at the school. The library had old stained glass windows and the woodwork was incredible. At the same time, we saw modern physical education facilities including a competition-sized pool.
This mix of very traditional and more current was also reflected in the instruction we saw in classrooms. Our tour guides were two young gentlemen who were in their final year at the school. They wanted to show us everything this private school represented and offered.
During our visit to the Mary Erskine School, we had an opportunity to speak with students directly. Our tour guides for the visit were two young women in their last year at the school. One of the girls told us she planned to go to the university for civil engineering and the other planned on becoming an attorney.
The students spoke of their love of the “maths” and sciences, as well as language. Although the students did not speak about 21st century skills or the 4 Cs, the projects and work that lined the halls and were on display in classrooms were evidence that creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration were woven into learning at this school. Even in a school that is a more traditional model, going beyond academics and ensuring students obtain the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary in this new era of work and life are being addressed.
Tours and visits to private independent schools show how enriching an educational experience can be when government restrictions are minimal, with extreme local control and funding is optimal. It is not surprising that these are key components to deliver educational opportunities for all!
We visited the all girls’ Mary Erskine School, one of the three schools of the Erskine Stewart’s Melville Schools system (ESMS). It is an independent secondary school associated with the boys’ school and the primary center, the equivalent of our preK-6 program. We met with Mrs. Velma Moule, the head of the girls’ school and, as of the next school year, the head of the entire ESMS operation.