Our Campaign To Show How Leaders Matter


By Daniel A. Domenech/School Administrator, December 2018


MY PARENTS WERE proud of me when I became a teacher and then moved into administration. They were aware I was in a Ph.D. program that would lead to further advancement.

When I called my mother to proudly inform her that I had been appointed superintendent of the Deer Park School District in New York, I heard a deafening silence at the other end. I asked her if she had heard me, and she finally replied, with an edge to her voice, “Son, after all of these years of study, you have accepted a job as a superintendent?”

As a New York City resident, my mother knew the superintendent as the individual who maintained the buildings we lived in. She was perplexed as to why I had made such a drastic change in occupation.

A Role Explained
Like my mother, many people do not really know what the superintendent does. Friends who knew the superintendent was the person in charge of the school district still assumed I had a regular school day schedule and my hours ended when school let out, plus I had summers off.

Earlier this year, AASA launched the Leaders Matter campaign to better inform the public about the role and responsibilities of the superintendent and to highlight outstanding education leaders who are making a difference in the lives of millions of children. Four such examples follow.

Mary Sieu has been the superintendent of the ABC Unified School District outside Los Angeles since 2012. As the daughter of an immigrant family from China, she learned English as a second language in the Chicago Public Schools and was inspired to become a teacher by the wonderful teachers and principals in her schools.

Though she grew up in poverty, Sieu believed demographics do not determine destiny. She proved that in her own case and was determined to make that belief a reality for the ethnically diverse and low-income students in the ABC communities. Today, the district boasts of a 98 percent high school graduation rate with zero expulsions for the past six years. Sieu’s leadership matters, and she has been recognized by her colleagues who selected her to be the 2017 California Superintendent of the Year and a finalist for National Superintendent of the Year®.

David Schuler has been the superintendent of Township High School District 214 outside Chicago since 2005. Schuler, the 2018 National Superintendent of the Year®, has taken the lead in launching the Redefining Ready! campaign that has been adopted by school districts nationwide.

At a time when so much emphasis and importance is attributed to the results of scores on standardized tests, Schuler is changing the definition to include a wider range of metrics to indicate postsecondary readiness.

District 214 has become a demonstration site that shows the multiple pathways that students can choose toward a high school diploma and college and career readiness. Indeed, students are empowered to exercise their intellectual curiosity and pursue courses of study that truly motivate them. District 214 boasts six nationally recognized comprehensive high schools offering more than 600 academic courses and 140 co-curricular opportunities.

Wendy Robinson has been the superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools in Fort Wayne, Ind., since 2003. Realizing the need to have highly trained and effective staff to meet the needs of her diverse student population, Robinson focused on developing an outstanding professional development system. She began by turning the traditional evaluation system into a learning process rather than an accountability process. The goal was not to punitively evaluate but to provide needed support.

Working with Learning Forward, the district developed a districtwide culture of continuous improvement. Their success led to a $42 million Teacher Incentive Fund grant followed by a $50 million Performance+Equity=Excellent Results grant.

Mike Winstead is the superintendent of the Maryville City Schools in Tennessee. The achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and their peers has been a bone of contention for most school systems. Winstead decided to tackle the issue in his district.

He focused on 3rd-grade reading where the gap was at 25 percent. A literacy council composed of teachers with a strong aptitude for teaching reading developed a literacy framework that included materials for the students and training for staff. Literacy support for the students extended beyond the school day and during the summer months. Tutoring was provided to students living in subsidized housing. In just a two-year period, the literacy efforts resulted in the reduction of the achievement gap to just 12 percent.

Giving Thanks … in More Than 13,000 Ways

As families coast to coast are celebrating this blessed Thanksgiving holiday, I am so proud of the more than 13,000 school district leaders who are working diligently to enhance the lives of our young learners.

Thank you for the powerful contributions you are creating and providing on behalf of the future leaders of society.

Thank you for serving as a voice for our public schools, the real lifeblood of our democracy.

Thank you for being champions for children.

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A Comparison Between Public & Private Schools on the International Seminar

This year’s AASA International Seminar took our group of superintendents to Ecuador. This was not our first journey to South America and we found education in Ecuador to be very similar to what we have seen in Costa Rica, Panama, Peru and Chile.

AASA President Chris Gaines and Executive Director Dan Domenech with children from the Milenio School in Guano, Ecuador.

Like their neighbors, Ecuador’s public schools serve primarily the poor while the middle class and up tend to send their children to private schools. We visited two such schools, the American International School in Quito and the Vigotsky School in Riobamba.

The International school is truly a model of outstanding education. Catering to the children of American diplomats and those that can afford the $18,000 per-year tuition, the school offers programs to infants through high school. We were very impressed by the college-like campus and the quality of the teachers and administrators.

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A Visit to Unidad Educativa del Milenio GUANO during the AASA International Seminar

A guest blog post by Amy Sichel and Gladys Cruz

Today, we began our school visits at the Unidad Educativa del Milenio GUANO, a Pre-K to high school, housed in a four-and-a-half year-old government-built facility. The school has an enrollment of 630 students who previously attended seven different smaller schools now consolidated into one new building.

The children attend school from September 4 through July 10 and live in the area of Guano. Some children are bused to school.

As superintendents from across the U.S., we appreciate the opportunity to see the value placed on education in other countries. Clearly, other countries often aspire to provide a mandatory education for all, as we do.

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Next Stop on the 2018 AASA International Seminar: A School on San Cristobal Island in Galapagos

A guest post by Gladys Cruz

I ventured to visit schools on a hot sunny morning on the island. Not knowing if I would be given entrance to the schools, I decided to take the risk and was joined by David Woolly, the superintendent of the Alma School District in Alma, Ark.

Given the lure around Charles Darwin on the Galápagos Islands, I was immediately attracted to visiting the Carlos Darwin School. Upon arrival, a native from Ecuador greeted us.

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First Stop on the 2018 AASA International Seminar: Academia Cotopaxi

A guest post by AASA Past President Amy Sichel

The AASA International Seminar is always a meaningful experience for superintendents. During this year’s trip, we are learning about the culture and history of Ecuador, which includes the opportunity to visit schools. The value added is traveling with fellow superintendents from across our country, making connections and learning from each other.

Superintendents on the AASA International Seminar listen to a presentation at the American International School in Quito, Ecuador.

Our first school visit was to Academia Cotopaxi, an American International School, educating children from 12-months-old to high school. This school has a beautiful campus and is located in Ecuador’s capital city of Quito. The Academia is a private, English-based international school. The parents of many of the children who attend are stationed in Quito either through the embassy or are U.S. government officials. The children come from 38 different countries with a total enrollment of 850. Fifty-eight percent of the students are international, 42 percent are from Ecuador and 22 percent are from North America. The tuition is $18,000 per student.

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Remembering 911

he Message of an Unforgettable Day
By Daniel A. Domenech/School Administrator, September 2018


THE FAIRFAX COUNTY Public Schools’ leadership team always met on Tuesday mornings. On Sept. 11, 2001, my administrative assistant walked into the meeting room to place a note in front of me. It read: “The North Tower of the World Trade Center has been hit by an airplane.” She did so because she knew that, as a New Yorker, I would be interested.

Initially, I assumed the pilot of a small plane, blinded by sunlight, had crashed into the building. Half an hour later she came back to inform me another airplane had crashed into the South Tower. Recognizing this as an improbable coincidence, I dismissed the meeting and requested everyone return to their posts. I had barely reached my office when the report came in that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon.

Fairfax County, where I was the superintendent, not only is located in proximity to the Pentagon, but it also is home to CIA headquarters, the National Reconnaissance Center and Fort Belvoir, all major military and intelligence operations. When my phone rang, an agent from one of the federal agencies informed me of the likelihood we were under attack and that additional planes were in the air with targets unknown, but certainly in our area.

Rapid Mobilization
We had to mobilize quickly. Every September, our district sends all of its 5th graders — about 13,000 — to the Wolf Trap International Children’s Festival. It’s a special, youth-oriented cultural affair dedicated to the performing, visual and interactive arts. Because Wolf Trap is located eight miles from CIA headquarters, I realized our students were on buses that were near a potential target. I immediately called my transportation director and instructed him to contact all the buses and have them return the children to their respective schools — 140 elementary schools spread across the county.

Television news then flashed the bulletin that another plane had crashed in western Pennsylvania. The possibility that we were under attack was credible. Panic and chaos quickly spread throughout the Washington, D.C., region. I sent a message to all 190 schools and centers that they were now on lockdown. Not knowing how long the situation would last, the directive was that no child would be allowed to leave school unless picked up by an authorized adult. Similarly, all staff were directed to remain at their posts until further notice. At that point, the overwhelmed communication systems crashed, and we were all in the dark, waiting for the next explosion, the next attack.

Hours passed without any additional incidents, but the escape out of the D.C. area created massive traffic jams. Many parents were unable to retrieve their children until late that evening. They were appreciative that the schools had kept them in a safe environment rather than dismissing them into a potential war zone. I was incredibly proud of our staff who, to an individual, remained at their posts until the last child was retrieved. Many had friends and relatives at the Pentagon and were aware of the assault on that facility, but they stayed to protect the children under their care.

After the smoke cleared and search and rescue operations were completed at the Pentagon, we learned more than 200 had lost their lives there, many of them the spouses, relatives and friends of our staff.

Conscious Avoidance
As a former New Yorker, I hold many memories of the World Trade Center. The New York State Education Department had offices in the building, where I attended many meetings. I had been part of many conferences at the hotel in the building complex, as well as dinners at Windows on the World atop the North Tower.

The New York City Education Department also had offices at the World Trade Center, and it was there in 1995 that the city’s board of education voted unanimously to name me its chancellor of schools, an appointment that lasted only 24 hours, but that’s another story.

I had consciously avoided visiting the 911 Memorial & Museum. I was not sure I could handle the memories it would evoke. I recently made the trip, 17 years later. I am glad I did because it will forever be a reminder of the 2,996 lives lost and the more than 6,000 people injured by an attack on our country’s mainland. I found it’s also a good reminder of how important it is that we remain a United States of America.


DANIEL DOMENECH
is AASA executive director. Twitter: @AASADan

Back-to-School: Start Spreading the News

As long as I’ve been working in public education, this time of year has always been very special. On behalf of the entire AASA family, we hope our superintendents and those aspiring to become superintendents have a fantastic school year filled with the creation of positive solutions that will translate into greater academic outcomes for our students.

I’ve been saying for years that superintendents are the nation’s foremost thought leaders in public education. Last week, our school system leaders spoke out about some very critical issues that directly affect the lives of our students. We need to listen to what was said and do something about it.

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Redefining Ready!: Changing The Trajectory of Our Students’ Dreams

Our high schools are brimming with innovators. There are scores of students from coast to coast driven by ideas and dreams of a better tomorrow.

I recently read an article in a newspaper focused on a discussion between a community college president and a U.S. Senator about how poorly we’re preparing kids for college. The piece contained no authentic examination of data to prove their argument.

Students attending Virginia Beach (Va.) City Public Schools

As schools across the country open their doors for the new academic year, we as educators need to think about what I believe should be our No. 1 goal—changing the trajectory of our students’ journeys and the lives of their families in order for our communities to dream differently.

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5 Suggestions for Leaders: Developing a Portrait of a 21st Century Graduate

By Aaron Spence, Virginia Beach City Public Schools, and Ken Kay, EdLeader21

Aaron Spence [left] and Ken Kay [right].

Some of the most exciting and impactful work happening in school systems across the country is around the development of a Portrait of a Graduate, a collective vision articulating a community’s aspirations for all students. We have observed a growing energy and interest in the Portrait of a Graduate among superintendents and other district leaders nationwide. In fact, the cover story of the August 2018 issue of American School Board Journal featured the stories of school systems that are implementing a Portrait of a Graduate.

As more school systems explore the development of a Portrait of a Graduate, we wanted to share 5 lessons we have learned in working with leaders of districts aspiring to prepare their students for 21st century challenges.

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