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. 
DANIEL DOMENECH
 is AASA executive director. Twitter: @AASADan