Statement in Support of Public Eduation

We issue this joint statement in support of public education and our continued commitment to the highest quality public education for all students.

Public education is the foundation of our 21st-century democracy. Our public schools are where our students come to be educated in the fullest sense of that word, including as citizens of this great country. We strive every day to make every public school a place where we prepare the nation’s young people to contribute to our society, economy, and citizenry.

Ninety percent of American children attend public schools. We call on local, state, and federal lawmakers to prioritize support for strengthening our nation’s public schools and empowering local education leaders to implement, manage and lead school districts in partnership with educators, parents, and other local education stakeholders and learning communities, and provide support such as counseling, extra/co-curricular activities, and mental health supports that will help students engage in learning;

We support and value inclusive and safe high-quality public schools where children learn to think critically, problem solve, and build relationships. We support an environment where all students can succeed beginning in the earliest years, regardless of their zip code, the color of their skin, their native language, their gender/gender identity, their immigration status, their religion, or their social standing.

We promote advancing equity and excellence in public education, and implementing continuous improvement and evidence-based practices. Every child has the right to an education that helps them reach their full potential and to attend schools that offer a high quality educational experience.

We support stable, equitable, predictable, and adequate funding for great public schools for every student in America so that students have inviting classrooms; have well-prepared and supported  educators, including teachers, paraprofessionals, and principals, who provide a well-rounded and complete curriculum and create joy in learning; have class sizes small enough to allow one-on-one attention; and have access to support services such as health care, nutrition, and after-school programs for students who need them.

We believe that public tax dollars should only support public schools that are publicly governed and are accountable to parents, educators, and communities. In no way should local, state, or federal funding be taken away from public schools and given to private schools that are unaccountable to the public.

We reiterate our love for public education and pride in our public schools. We will continue to promote the promise and purpose of public education, to elevate the great things happening every day in our public schools, and to engage communities around strategies that have helped students succeed.  We affirm our commitment to fight for resources and supports for public schools, and will be steadfast in our efforts to protect students and their families, public schools, and our communities from any policies that would undermine these values.

This the 5th day of September, 2017

AASA, The School Superintendents Association

American Federation of Teachers

National Association of Elementary School Principals

National Association of Secondary Principals

National Education Association

From “Back to School” to “Back to the Future”

A guest post by Ken Kay, CEO, EdLeader21, and Aaron Spence, superintendent, Virginia Beach City Schools, Va.

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

Okay, we’ll admit it: both of us were already working on our traditional “Back to School” blogs when it dawned on us that we should be doing something differently. Yes, we need to welcome folks back to school after summer vacation. But must we welcome our stakeholders back to “school” as it has always been understood? Could we make “Back to School” an opportunity to help students, teachers, parents and administrators chart a new course for the direction of our schools? Can we help our communities envision the future of our schools even as we head back into them this fall?

For the past 15 years, we both have been collaborating with school and district leaders to transform education as we know it. Both of us have focused much of our energy on rethinking the purpose of education and the competencies students need to possess in the 21st century. This work shouldn’t have to be esoteric and conceptual; at some level, we’ve all heard enough experts waxing philosophically in TED Talks about the inadequacy of our current school system. Instead, this work should be intentional, concrete and practical. Like you, we’ve thought a lot about the kinds of schools that could prepare students for success. Now, we need to make them visible.

As we head back to school, a great way to move forward with this work is to develop a clear, coherent vision of those competencies that are required for students’ success in 21st-century life and work. This vision will ensure that stakeholders have a shared understanding of those competencies, and that these competencies are used as the criteria to ensure that all future decisions — from the boardroom to the classroom — support a common vision of 21st-century teaching and learning. Fortunately, we have a useful framework for this discussion in EdLeader21’s work around the 4Cs: critical thinking; communication; collaboration; and creativity. To learn more about this framework and the work EdLeader21 is doing to support discussion around the 4Cs in school districts across the country, visit edleader21.com.

We believe that integrating the 4Cs into conversations about a district’s vision for the future of its schools is critically important. Districts that are interested in preparing students today for their world tomorrow are intentionally integrating these competencies into their strategic plan, their curriculum and their conversations with their community. Many district leadership teams have accomplished this work by adopting a “Profile of a Graduate” that specifically identifies those competencies required for 21st-century student success in language that is familiar to the stakeholders of that community.

In Virginia Beach, for example, EdLeader21 helped the district adopt its strategic plan, “Compass to 2020.” This plan conveys a clear, compelling vision for the future and was designed to guide the work of the district for five years in four key areas: academic achievement; multiple pathways to success; social and emotional development; and the strengthening of a culture of growth and excellence. An important part of communicating about “Compass to 2020” with their community was expressing clear outcomes that would be expected as a result of their work over those five years. In addition to creating Navigational Markers, a scorecard for the division that would allow the board and community to monitor specific metrics, they also created a Graduate Profile that identifies the specific 21st-century competencies that the district and community have adopted. These competencies were developed using the 4Cs as the starting point for a community conversation and include communication and collaboration, problem-solving and creativity, critical thinking and inquiry, personal and social responsibility, and cross-cultural competency. For Virginia Beach, this profile provides a guidepost to district and school leadership as they work to articulate and meet their strategic objectives.

Around the country, dozens of other districts have formally adopted their own unique “Profile of a Graduate,” not only to catalyze their districts’ transformations, but also to be responsive to their communities’ specific needs and goals. EdLeader21 has collected resources that emerged from their best and most promising practices to help you create a “Profile of a Graduate” on a new website: www.profileofagraduate.org. There, you will find examples from schools and districts across the country that have created a “Profile of a Graduate,” as well as an implementation guide to engage your community in dialogue about it. We have also created a “Profile Builder” with which you and your stakeholders can create your own personal “Profile of a Graduate” by selecting the 21st-century student competencies you believe are most essential. These can be shared with other members of your community to create momentum towards the adoption of a formal “Profile of a Graduate” for your district.

The “Profile of a Graduate” shouldn’t be presented or perceived as another new initiative for your district. Instead, it should become the “North Star” for all of your other initiatives. Over the course of the next school year, you’ll be making important decisions not only about curriculum and instruction, but also about digital learning initiatives, professional learning opportunities, capstone projects, portfolio and other alternative forms of performance assessment, hiring and evaluation practices and so much more. Imagine if decisions about all of those initiatives were made with explicit attention to their impact on students’ development of the 21st-century competencies you’ve identified in your “Profile of a Graduate.”

Talk to other district leaders who have led the development of a “Profile of a Graduate.” Both of us will be glad to introduce you to one. And consider how this year’s return to school might be the best time to help your district focus on its future. Imagine welcoming your community back to work that feels a little less like “Back to School” and a lot more like “Back to the Future.”

 

Ken Kay is the CEO of EdLeader21 and the Founding President of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. He can be reached at kkay@edleader21.com.

Aaron Spence is the superintendent of Virginia Beach City Schools in Virginia Beach, VA. Spence was named 2018 Virginia Superintendent of the Year. He can be reached at aaron.spence@vbschools.com.

A Long, Hot Summer

Some of the images we’re seeing on television and stories we’re reading about in our local newspapers are describing some of the most disappointing and disheartening moments in the history of our country.

What has made it even more alarming? The violence, compounded with the flurry of discussions focusing on bigotry and hate, come at a time when we should be focusing on a more exciting time — the start of a new school year.

Make no mistake that these incidents are on the minds of every superintendent, principal, teacher and any other advocate for public education. Walk into any supermarket, bakery, barbershop, beauty salon or gas station and I would be surprised if people aren’t talking about it. The question remains, as I mentioned in a recent press statement, how do the leaders of the more than 13,000 public school systems pull through?

Once again, let me thank AASA members for the outstanding work they do in preparing our nation’s young people for the unique demands and challenges they will undoubtedly face in their lives beyond high school.

The examples of outstanding work being done by our superintendents are endless, but let me pinpoint just a few. I invite you to take a listen to the latest AASA Radio segment. Matt Utterback, the superintendent of Oregon’s North Clackamas School District and the 2017 AASA National Superintendent of the Year®, rightly points out that the academic success of the generations of students of tomorrow, is equally, if not more important to the academic success of students in our schools today.

Earlier this summer, Gail Pletnick, superintendent of Arizona’s Dysart Unified School District 89, was sworn in as the 2017-18 president of AASA. An outstanding leader in every sense, Gail proudly asserts the importance of redefining, redesigning and reimagining teaching and learning environments in our schools as a way to improve the overall quality of our school systems and communities.

 

Finally, in late July, Illinois superintendents Mike Lubelfeld (Deerfield Public School District 109) and Nick Polyak (Leyden High School District 212) successfully led AASA’s Digital Consortium summer meeting in suburban Chicago, where dozens of administrators engaged in meaningful dialogue about model digital transitions to improve student achievement.

AASA recently launched its I Love Public Education (#LovePublicEducation) campaign, an on-going effort to highlight why public schools are essential to developing the future generations that will maintain our country’s status as a world leader. Shortly following the Labor Day holiday, we will formally introduce another section of our website that provides a collection of resources about equity for school system leaders at all levels to help them and their teams succeed.

Who could’ve imagined the inflammable rhetoric that has taken place in our nation over the past few days? Not many of us could have foreseen the most fundamental fabric of our country — the public schools in our communities — being threatened by the ugliness of the actions that have been carried out by a selected few.

I am unboundedly confident that despite the rhetoric, our nation’s public school system leaders will rise to the occasion. They will speak out about the value of the public schools in their respective communities. They will speak out about the partnership that we, as educators, have with families throughout our urban, suburban and rural communities. This is a partnership to ensure that all children in these communities will receive the quality education that they deserve and that they are entitled to.

 

Daniel A. Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.   

Woodson HS Commencement Address

Dr. Poole, members of the Woodson faculty, parents, relatives, friends, Woodson’s graduating class of 2017, I am honored to have been given the opportunity to be here today to congratulate you on this accomplishment, this very significant milestone in your lives. Obtaining your high school diploma is the beginning of what we hope will be a bright future for you as you move on to colleges and careers. In twenty to thirty years you will be assuming the leadership of our businesses, professions, our politics, our country.

Today many refer to you as Generation Z. You are likely to be the last graduating class of kids born in the 1900’s. You are the post Millenials, born in the age of the internet, in your element when it comes to technology and social media. You actually are now the largest portion of the US population at 26%. You are rightfully concerned with student debt and your ability to afford college. You face a growing income gap in what is a shrinking middle class in America. You have grown up with the reality of global terrorism in the post 911 years. You are about to enter adulthood in the midst of one of the most turbulent times in  modern American history.

But fear not my young friends because as your parents did, and their parents before them, we have in this country the remarkable opportunity to shape our future, and by your remarkable accomplishment today in earning a high school diploma, you are well on your way.

America is the land of opportunity. It is today and it has always been. I came to this country at the age of nine with my parents, as a young immigrant that did not speak a word of English. I was born on my grandfather’s sugar cane plantation in my native Cuba. My early schooling was in a one room school house that was basically a thatched cottage with a dirt floor. I learned to read and write with the children of the “campesinos”, the mostly Haitian and Jamaican workers that came over to cut the sugar cane.

My father traveled to New York to sell our sugar and one year he came back from a trip and informed my mother that we were going to America.

To this day I remember that airplane ride to Newark, New Jersey. It was in the middle of January and I recall the blast of cold air that engulfed the airplane’s cabin as the doors were opened. I did not have a winter coat so my father wrapped me in a blanket from the plane and carried me down the steps. No bridge ways in the airports in those days.

My father took us to an apartment he had rented on the West side of Manhattan and by the time we reached it was late at night. I remember going to sleep immediately and waking up early the next morning. I rushed to the window to view my new neighborhood and was greeted by the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. It had snowed overnight and everything was a winter wonderland. My father took me shopping that day, buying me a coat, gloves and a hat, and a sled. That day he took me sledding in Central Park.

Those happy days came to an abrupt end when I realized that my parents were about to place me in a boarding school in Terrytown, New York, because they both had jobs and there would be no one home to care for me. I left Cuba as a literate fifth grade student, but here in the States, because I did not speak a word of English, I was placed in a second-grade class. My school was on the shores of the Hudson River and in those days the Tappan zee bridge was being built and I spent my days looking out the window at the bridge construction. I had given names to many of the workers I recognized by their clothes, the red flannel shirt guy was Pedro and the one with the blue overalls was Juan.

One day as I looked at the teacher in the front of the classroom writing numbers on the chalkboard it occurred to me that the numbers and configuration looked familiar. It was a simple single digit division problem to which I knew the answer. Automatically my right hand went up and the teacher looked curiously at me and with a smile she said one of the few terms in English that I understood, “you’re excused”. Up until that point the only time I had raised my hand was to be excused to go to the bathroom.

I shook my head, “no,no” and pointed to the problem on the board. The teacher invited me to the front of the room, handed me the chalk, and I immediately solved the problem. In shock and awe, she proceeded to write problems, up to double digits, and I solved them. She looked at me, wide-eyed, as if she had just discovered a prodigy, and marched me to the principal’s office. I was administered additional math tests after which I found myself promoted from the second grade to a fifth-grade class. In the span of a day I went from the oldest kid in the second grade to the youngest in the fifth.

As it turns out, they did not do me much of a favor because my new classmates did not appreciate that a younger, non-English speaking immigrant kid was sharing their classroom. The bullying became intolerable and I eventually begged my parents to take me out of that school and bring me home.

By the time I started a new school year in my neighborhood school I was proficient enough in English that I could participate in class. With supportive parents and good schools, I eventually graduated high school, went to college and became a teacher. I even went to graduate school and obtained a PhD. I have had a wonderful career. Thirteen years ago, if you were in kindergarten here in Fairfax, I was your superintendent. For the past nine years I have been honored to represent all the superintendents in the nation here in Washington DC.

I am the realization of the American dream. I am a proud American by choice. Some of you in the audience may have had experiences similar to mine but all of you have had the opportunity to receive the quality education that has placed you on the road to success and a bright future.

You are products of the digital age and you can look forward to a reality that was unthinkable at the turn of the century. Soon you will have artificially intelligent personal assistants. Siri and Alexa are mere prototypes of assistants that will carry on a conversation with you. They will be your clones representing you on the internet and able to write your emails, texts, make your appointments and basically anticipate your every need.

Computer chips will be embedded everywhere, in your clothes, contact lenses, accessories, monitoring your vital statistics, a la Fitbit, and adjusting the environment that surrounds you to meet your needs.

That will also lead to personalized medicine where medications will always be adjusted to your individual requirements. You are all familiar with 3D printers. It is conceivable that in the not too distant future we will be able to replicate organs when they need to be replaced without having to rely on donors.

You already see the writing on the wall relative to self-driven cars, cars that convert to airplanes, drones delivering packages to your front door.

The future that awaits you is incredible and exciting. But never lose sight of the fact that you will be called upon to shape the world that will be occupied by all these technological advances. Will we continue to embrace diversity or will we move towards isolationism, creating homogeneous classes that reject differences. Will we honor, respect, and tolerate the beliefs of others or will we persecute them. In a global society will we attempt to learn about the languages and cultures that differ from ours? In a country that is undoubtedly the most powerful in the world, will we reject the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann and the many educators responsible for creating a public education system that is second to none, an education system that has taken me and all of you, to where we are today. Thomas Jefferson said, “educate and inform the whole mass of the people, they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty”.

I have total confidence that the Woodson graduates of today will lead us to a bright tomorrow. That you have recognized and respect the value of a quality education and that this great country of ours will always allow those willing to apply themselves, with the opportunity to realize the American dream. Congratulations and best wishes to all.

Education in Socialist Cuba

Havana, Cuba – Cuba has made education of their citizenry a high priority. They are proud of the fact that their education is free from cradle to grave. Individuals can attend the university system and earn as many undergraduate and graduate degrees as they might have the inclination to achieve, at no cost. Although higher education is available and free, students have to go through an interview and examination process and meet the university standards in order to be admitted.

For grades 10-12, students have the option of pursuing an academic track that would prepare them for the college entrance exams or vocational programs that will prepare them for the world of work. For many years, Cuba has been graduating an impressive number of engineers, medical doctors, scientists and college professors. The socialist economy guaranteed them all employment after graduation. However, recent changes in the economy have reduced the number of jobs available to those holding academic degrees while at the same time, there has been an increasing demand for skilled workers.

Our group had the opportunity to visit the Restoration Workshop in Old Havana. Many young Cubans apply for admission into a program that will only accept 200 students. Applicants have to be at least 18 years old and must go through an interview process that gauges their personalities and abilities. Throughout the two years of the program, participants are taught the skills necessary to restore the many historic, but aging and decaying, buildings in Havana. They earn a modest salary while in the program. We saw the quality of their work in many of the buildings they have restored in Old Havana as well as at the current reconstruction of the Cuban Capitol.

The graduates are now very much in demand by Cubans who are buying many of the old buildings to establish restaurants and night clubs in the burgeoning privatization sector. Although in the prevailing socialist economy the majority of Cubans still work for the government, there is a growing number of individuals who have set up their own businesses and are employing individuals to work for them. Most of the 1950s vintage American cars that Cuba is so famous for are now taxis owned and operated by individuals, not the state. Trained mechanics are needed to keep those cars running.

Because of these factors, more students are opting to learn job skills that will earn them a higher income than if they had a college degree. In this regard we note that, as Cuba’s tourism grows, many of the tour guides are well educated professors and professionals who have abandoned their careers for the higher income they earn as tour guides.

Dan Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. His blogged about the April 17-22 AASA Delegation to Cuba.

A Teacher Shortage in Cuba

Havana, Cuba – Shortly after the Castro regime took over the Cuban government, more than 100,000 youngsters, aged 10-16, were recruited to go into all corners of the island to teach all citizens how to read and write.

These literacy volunteers received several weeks of training with the materials they were to use in their work. They went out to the countryside and moved in with the “campesinos,” the Cuban farmers, working the fields during the day and teaching them to how read and write at night. In urban areas, military barracks were converted into schools and thus began a very intensive and successful indoctrination program that brought Socialism, along with literacy, to the island.

Over the 57 years of the regime, those 100,000 literacy volunteers bonded and became some of Castro’s biggest supporters. Today, Cuba’s teachers continue the literacy initiative while focusing as well on the principles of the “Revolution”. Moral, ethical and civic conduct are seen as important as academic achievement. Teachers are on the alert to detect what issues might be affecting the child’s ability to come to school ready to learn. Every school has a “school council” made up of not just teachers and parents in the school, but other professionals in the social and health arenas who offer support services to families and students.

Teacher training and professional development is a process, not a product. It is ongoing, with two days of in-service per month and weekly on-site activities. The evaluation of teachers is a collective process involving peer review and emphasizing development rather than the documentation that might lead to dismissal. According to the officials charged with the professional development of teachers, dismissal only happens in the event of fraudulent or other criminal activity. Indeed, they see a teacher’s failure as the failure of the entire system.

The country is currently undergoing a teacher shortage. Fewer students are opting to go into teaching, paralleling the reduction of individuals opting to pursue college careers in favor of higher paying jobs in other sectors of the economy. Attempts are being made to begin the teacher recruitment process as early as the primary grades in the hopes of establishing a pipeline of future Cuban educators.

Dan Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. His blogged about the April 17-22 AASA Delegation to Cuba.

 

Cuba’s Education System Paying Dividends

Havana, Cuba – Public education is one of Cuba’s top priorities. Within a year of ousting President Batista in 1959, the country set the ambitious goal of eliminating illiteracy throughout the island. By 1962, illiteracy in Cuba had dropped from 23.6 percent to a mere 3.6 percent. Today, Cuba boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world.

We heard this at a meeting with Dr. Paul Torres, a high-ranking official in Cuba’s Ministry of Education. Cuba offers a free education from cradle to grave. From pre-school programs to doctorates, education is free and available to all.

Education is mandatory through the 9th grade. After that, youngsters have the option of three years of a pre-university program or going to a vocational school.

Currently, about 60 percent of Cuba’s students opt for the academic track but the country is attempting to reverse those ratios. The economy is demanding more trained skilled workers and fewer academicians. This is due in part to the growing private sector in Cuba where skilled workers are in demand and can earn higher wages than academicians.

With increased tourism, privately owned restaurants (known as “paladares”) as well as privately owned night clubs are in need of skilled workers to reconstruct and modernize the aging buildings they occupy. It’s obvious that Cuba has its toe in the capitalist lake. How far they are willing to go is a topic for conjecture among many of the Cubans we met.

Dan Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. His blogged about the April 17-22 AASA Delegation to Cuba.

A Look at the Educational Structure in Cuba

Havana, Cuba – Cuba’s education system might as well be considered the ultimate wrap-around institution for children.

All children are considered to be wards of the state and in partnership with the parents. All pertinent institutions work in tandem to provide support for their educational and socio-emotional needs. The infant program is available for ages one to four and incorporates child care as well as meeting the medical needs of the children. Parents are taught to be the child’s first teacher.

After school programs abound in every community, attempting to keep students of all ages engaged in constructive activities. Our group visited “La Colmenita”, an after-school program center that uses visual and performing arts as social development tools.

While there, we saw second and third graders making impressive sketches. We were treated to musical performances and dances that brought our group to standing ovations.

This happens not in modern, well-maintained facilities, but rather decaying structures in need of much maintenance and repair.

The staff is not paid. They are parents, artists and performers who volunteer to work with the children.

These programs extend throughout the summer vacation period when parents are required to take their two-week vacations so they can participate in activities with their children.

Dan Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. His blogged about the April 17-22 AASA Delegation to Cuba.

Statement on President Trump’s Budget Proposal

Earlier today, President Trump released details for his FY18 budget proposal. It is a ‘skinny budget’, in that it only covers discretionary funding, and within that, doesn’t fully list the impact on all discretionary programs.The proposal cuts funding to the US Education Department by $9 billion (13 percent). It provides a $1 billion increase for Title I, but the increase is for states and districts to use for portability and choice. This is in addition to a new $250 million school choice/voucher program and a $168 million increase for charters, bringing the total amount of NEW funding in the President’s budget for choice to $1.4 billion. The budget level funds IDEA, eliminates ESSA Title II Part A and eliminates the 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

In response to this budget proposal, AASA Executive Director Daniel A. Domenech released the following statement:

“AASA is deeply concerned that the first budget proposal from the new administration doesn’t prioritize investment in the key federal programs that support our nation’s public schools, which educate more than 90% of our nation’s students. While we would normally applaud a proposal that increases funding for Title I by $1 billion, we cannot support a proposal that prioritizes privatization and steers critical federal funding into policies and programs that are ineffective and flawed education policy. The research on vouchers and portability has consistently demonstrated that they do not improve educational opportunity and leave many students, including low-income students, student with disabilities, and students in rural communities-underserved. AASA remains opposed to vouchers and will work with the administration and Congress to ensure that all entities receiving federal dollars for education faces the same transparency, reporting and accountability requirements.

“AASA is disappointed at the significant cuts proposed to critical education programs, including the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Title II. FY 18 dollars will be used by schools across the nation in just the second year of ESSA implementation, and the idea that this administration thinks that schools can do this work—and the administration claim they support this work—without supporting teachers and teacher leaders, and their professional development, is a deeply disconcerting position.

“As recently as yesterday Secretary DeVos indicated an interest in supporting state and local education agencies, and “to returning power to the states whenever and wherever possible.” AASA is concerned that while the department indicates they want to return power, the proposed funding levels—including continued level funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and cuts to core programs in ESSA—deeply undercut state and local efforts in these areas and expand the reality of federal requirements without commensurate support, further encroaching on state and local dollars. The return of power, however well intended, when systematically and deliberately paired with low funding, translates into unfunded federal requirements.

“AASA remains committed to parity between defense and non-defense discretionary (NDD) dollars, and we are deeply opposed to the proposed $54 billion increase in defense discretionary spending being offset by NDD spending cuts. AASA supports robust investment in our nation’s schools and the students they serve, and we support increased investment for both defense and NDD funding by lifting the budget caps, as set forth in the Budget Control Act of 2011, for both. NDD programs are the backbone of critical functions of government and this proposed cut will impact myriad policy areas—including medical and scientific research, job training, infrastructure, public safety and law enforcement, public health and education, among others—and programs that support our children and students.

“Increased investment in education—particularly in formula programs—is a critical step to improving education for all students and bolstering student learning, school performance and college and career readiness among our high school graduates.  AASA remains hopeful that our President, who has consistently articulated an interest in growing our economy, growing jobs, and keeping this nation moving forward, will recognize the unparalleled role that education plays in each of these goals and work to improve his FY18 budget to increase investment in the key federal K12 programs that bolster and improve our nation’s public schools, the students they serve and the education to which they aspire.”

 

Dateline New Orleans: Public Education is Working

Dan Domenech, executive director, AASA, speaking at the 2017 AASA National Conference on Education in New Orleans, La.

There has never been a more important time than now to speak out about the value of public education and the 50 million students in our public school buildings. With that thought in mind, on behalf of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, let me say thank you to the hundreds of superintendents, education stakeholders and sponsors who joined us in New Orleans last week for the 2017 National Conference on Education.

Positive reaction continues to pour in from all over the country about our conference, which draws some of the sharpest minds in public education on an annual basis. Key topics during this year’s edition were curriculum and instruction; digitizing education; equity; leadership for equality; personalizing education; principal supervision initiatives; and superintendent/school board relationships. For the second year in a row, AASA hosted a Social Media Lounge, providing attendees with opportunities to learn best practices currently being used in school districts while gaining hands-on social media assistance.

No longer is our conference a gathering that kicks off on a Thursday only to wind down on Saturday. With the growing number of superintendents and aspiring superintendents participating in our leadership programs and consortiums, full-day meetings involving these participants now convene on Monday. This is clearly an illustration of effective professional engagement at work.

Congratulations to the two cohorts of educators who were recognized for completing the rigorous National Superintendent Certification program and the two Urban Superintendent cohorts that also completed their programs. It’s a pleasure, yet not surprising, to see the enthusiasm generated by these individuals who are making huge leaps in their careers.

On Day No. 1 of the conference, it was an honor to congratulate Matthew Utterback, superintendent of Oregon’s North Clackamas School District, who was named AASA’s 2017 National Superintendent of the Year. A $10,000 college scholarship will be presented in Superintendent Utterback’s name to a student in the high school from which he graduated or the secondary school in North Clackamas.

It was equally gratifying to recognize the three other National Superintendent of the Year finalists—Barbara Jenkins (Orange County Public Schools, Orlando Fla.), Stewart McDonald, Kodiak Island Borough School District, Kodiak, Alaska) and James Merrill (Wake County Public School System, Cary, N.C.). Aramark and VALIC co-sponsor the NSOY award program.

In his address at the first General Session, AASA President Alton Frailey continued with his prevailing theme in 2016-17—Communities 4 Schools. Quoting Abraham Lincoln as saying “Public sentiment is everything,” Frailey called on “third-party folks” – civic and religious leaders – to challenge the notion that all public schools are failing. “How do we recapture the public sentiment and support for public education?” he asked.

During the second General Session, we announced the Redefining Ready! National Scholarship 2017, to be sponsored by Hobsons. The scholarship competition allows students to tell the world why they are college, career and life ready through a 30-second social media video. Fifteen students will win scholarships ranging in value from $1,000 to $10,000.

I applaud AASA President-elect Gail Pletnick for calling on school system leaders to raise their voices loudly to capture the various ways public schools are working for our students. During her remarks on Saturday’s third General Session, Gail said superintendents must “showcase how public schools have redefined, redesigned and re-imagined teaching and learning environments.” She called it a modern-day version of the “3 R’s.”

We also honored former U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr., and presented him with the annual Effie H. Jones award. This award recognizes leaders who exemplify the qualities modeled by the late Effie Hall Jones, and her professional and personal commitment to diversifying the field of education with high quality leaders to ensure the best education for all students.

A key takeaway among a myriad of takeaways from NOLA is as follows: Public Education IS working! We would not be the most powerful country in the world without our public schools. By every criterion and measure we use, reading and math scores in NAEP, high school graduation, drop-out rates and college attendance rates, our performance is the best that it has ever been.

We will continue to protect the interest of our students and ensure that public education is not subject to privatization attempts that will drain much needed dollars from school district budgets.

Together, we will continue to be champions for our children and public education.

Once again, thank you to those who made the journey to New Orleans. We look forward to seeing you and many more school district leaders in Nashville for NCE18.

For wall-to-wall coverage of AASA’s 2017 National Conference on Education, visit our newly re-designed Conference Daily Online.

 

Dan Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.