California Rain Turns to Gold at National Conference on Education

A steady rain and unseasonably cold temperatures in Los Angeles did not put a damper on the 2019 National Conference on Education.

Off in the distance from our hotel, one could spot the infamous Hollywood sign perched on the Santa Monica Mountains. They say Hollywood is where the stars are. As far as I was concerned, the only stars that mattered were the 2,000 superintendents and other administrators who joined us in the City of Angels to celebrate excellence in school system leadership.

Congratulations to Curtis Jones, superintendent of Georgia’s Bibb County Schools for being named the 2019 National Superintendent of the Year®. Here’s a man who spent the first 20 years of his professional life serving in the U.S. Army and now is dedicated to providing the highest quality education to the students he serves.

Let me also congratulate Wanda Cook-Robinson, superintendent of Michigan’s Oakland Schools, and Marie Izquierdo, chief academic officer for Miami-Dade Schools, for winning top honors in our Women in School Leadership Awards.

Congratulations as well to the 2019 recipients of our annual Dr. Effie H. Jones Award, a recognition of school leaders who have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of equity and the advancement of women in education. Honorees included Wanda Cook-Robinson; Traci Davis, superintendent of Washoe County School District in Nevada; and Karl Hertz, past president of AASA and retired superintendent of Mequon-Thiensville School District in Wisconsin.

It wasn’t too long ago when our national conference convened over the course of three days. Today, with the expansion of our leadership services, our annual gathering, from beginning to end, stretches for about a week.

A few short years ago, we offered just two leadership cohorts. Today, that number has swelled to more than 35, mobilizing more than 2,000 superintendents as well as those aspiring to become superintendents. Participation spans all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

We were thrilled to recognize the outstanding educators who successfully completed the National Superintendent Certification Program®, Aspiring Superintendent Academy® and the Urban Superintendents Academy®. At a time when public education continues to be put under the microscope, I am so pleased that dozens of men and women who wish to grow their professional careers on behalf of students in their respective communities were honored for completing our rigorous professional development programs.

The award winners and program participants are all champions for children. They are leaders who matter. They are ambassadors of our campaign, showcasing exemplary leadership. I am proud of each and every one of them.

I thank our three General Session speakers—former U.S. National Security Advisor and Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice; Bill Daggett, the founder and chairman of the International Center for Leadership in Education; and former Major League Baseball pitcher Jim Abbott. We owe each of them a debt of gratitude for joining us.

A final thank you to all the public education leaders who made the journey to Los Angeles for our special event. We hope you enjoyed the conference as much as I did. The AASA family looks forward to seeing you in San Diego for the 2020 National Conference on Education.

For wall-to-wall coverage of AASA’s 2019 national conference, visit Conference Daily Online.  

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

Creating Cultures Through Cohorts

By Daniel A. Domenech/School Administrator, February 2019

THOUSANDS OF SCHOOL superintendents will convene this month in Los Angeles to attend AASA’s National Conference on Education. The attendees will be exposed to more than 100 sessions focusing on topics relevant to their work as the educational leaders of their communities.

The General Sessions will include a discussion I will have with former United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice. Always a popular presenter at our national conference, Bill Daggett will share his latest research on innovative practices, while former Major League Baseball pitcher Jim Abbott will deliver an excellent talk on how he overcame having one hand yet still pitched a no-hitter with the New York Yankees. It’s a gripping story relevant to the bullying and adversity that students with disabilities face.

The conference also provides for professional networking with colleagues. We have discovered through the many leadership development opportunities AASA provides that educational leaders greatly value the time to engage in discussions with critical friends. Learning from one another and knowing that you can reach out to others for counsel when needed is essential for personal growth and professional development.

Championing Children
Leadership development is a critical component of our mission. As a nation now divided, perhaps it is too late for the adults to reconcile, yet as educators we must do everything we can to ensure our youth, who are our country’s future, come together to overcome those differences. Our schools must become the safe havens that embrace diversity and equity and affirm the last words in the Pledge of Allegiance: “liberty and justice for all.”

Consequently, the role of the superintendent as the champion for children and public education is more important than ever. AASA will carry your message to Congress and to the U.S. Department of Education, but at the local level, you must prevail. AASA is here to support you in that effort.

In his book Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson proposed a system of public education for males only and further studies that were limited to the best students. We have progressed much further than that but, in many ways, we still focus on the best students. Consider that our goal is to prepare our students to be college-ready, yet the reality is that fewer than 40 percent of our students earn a four-year college degree. The focus is still on our “best” students.

What happens to the other 60 percent? Have we done enough to make them “career-ready”? According to corporate America, we have not. They constantly bring up the fact that there are thousands of skilled jobs that cannot be filled because we have not trained students to capably handle them.

Networking Cohorts
At a recent meeting of our superintendent/community college president cohort, cosponsored with the American Association for Community Colleges, a participating superintendent said that when he asked a group of parents how many wanted their children to be four-year college graduates, they all raised their hands. We are living in a culture where a vocational education is not desirable. A skilled laborer is not given the same respect as a college graduate. Statistics show a direct positive correlation between earnings and level of education.

AASA’s Redefining Ready! cohort is trying to change that culture. Yes, we still want to provide our students with the quality education that enables them to pursue the highest degree they want to achieve, but at the same time we must provide students with the option to pursue alternative pathways. Our partnership with AACC has resulted in a significant increase in dual credit programs where high school students are graduating with both a high school diploma and an associate degree. Youth apprenticeship programs create collaboratives among high schools, community colleges and businesses that provide students with an education while they learn a trade and are guaranteed employment.

Our Personalized Learning cohort seeks to transform education as we know it and to redesign it into a 21st-century version that provides every student with instruction that is always appropriate to their ability and interests. The true definition of equity is not to provide all students with the same, but to provide each student with what he or she needs to be successful. Students will progress at their own pace and assume responsibility for their learning as they choose the areas of study that interest them.

AASA members are hard at work creating a culture that will produce a bright future for all. 
 is AASA executive director. Twitter: @AASADan