Commencement Address at George Mason Graduate School of Education

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.

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Brown v. Board and a New Generation

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.

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Making Time for Mastery

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.

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