A San Diego Serenade, AASA Style

In an era when criticism of public education is constantly spewing from all corners of the nation, my message to the more than 3,400 school system leaders last week at the 2020 AASA National Conference on Education was simple: American education today is the best it has ever been.

Whether or not you were able to join us in San Diego, let me thank you for your hard work to make that possible.

This year, U.S. News & World Report ranks America No. 1 in the world in education. What’s more, high school graduation rates are higher today than ever before. According to the National Assessment Governing Board, student achievement for every major ethnic group is greater now than it was in the 1970s. The percentage of high school dropouts among 16-through-24-year-olds is lower today than a generation ago.

Despite these high marks, there is no time to rest on our laurels. No one can argue that a lot of work needs to be done to equalize academic outcomes among ALL students from ALL zip codes.

Sadly, more than 1.3 million U.S. public school students were homeless in 2017. Our policy leaders must address the high levels of poverty and meager support for impoverished families. We, as a nation, must add more public dollars into the mix if we’re serious about creating a quality education for all. Today, the U.S. ranks at the bottom in that category.

(Click here to view the slides I referred to during my welcoming remarks during the Feb. 13 opening general session at the conference.)

Switching gears, let me congratulate Gustavo Balderas, superintendent of Oregon’s Eugene School District, for being named the 2020 National Superintendent of the Year®. “This is a ‘we award,’ not a ‘me award,’” he told the audience following our announcement, as he paid tribute to the Eugene community, including his board and administrative team. I thank AIG Retirement Services and First Student for co-sponsoring the National Superintendent of the Year® program.

At a time when it’s absolutely critical to bring more women into the field of education administration, let me also congratulate the outstanding female educators recognized in our 2020 Women in School Leadership Awards. Honorees included Susan Enfield, superintendent, Highline Public (Wash.) Schools (superintendent category); Shelly Reggiani, executive director, equity and instruction, North Clackamas (Ore.) Schools (central office/principal category); and Lesley Bruinton, public relations coordinator, Tuscaloosa (Ala.) City Schools (school-based category). We thank Horace Mann for sponsoring our Women in School Leadership Awards program.

We’ve had many more award presentations and a host of honorees. I encourage you to learn all about them by accessing our conference e-newsletter, Conference Daily Online

I also thank our three general session keynote speakers. They included David Brooks, op-ed columnist with The New York Times, Linda Darling-Hammond, president and CEO, Learning Policy Institute; and Mawi Asgedom, founder, Mawi Learning and strategic advisor of social and emotional learning, ACT.

From start to finish, the synergy in San Diego throughout our conference was absolutely outstanding. As I went from room to room and from session to session at the San Diego Convention Center, I saw scores of champions for children—outstanding superintendents who are working tirelessly to build dynamic learning environments on behalf of the students they serve.

I’m pleased to see that many of these superintendents and other administrators are learning and sharing go-to strategies and winning ideas through AASA’s Leadership Network. The network is committed to developing school system leaders in order to transform our schools so that each child has access to equitable, rigorous and relevant educational opportunities.

This year, more than 2,000 participants are engaged in 35 different programs designed to prepare our aspiring leaders and certify our current leaders to create a pipeline to the superintendency. These initiatives are bolstering a transformational movement through the implementation of such issues as personalized learning, Redefining Ready!, social and emotional learning, digital learning, early learning, youth apprenticeship and much more.

It was a pleasure to see firsthand the scores of superintendents engaged in activity as much as two and three days prior to the official start of the conference, which has become commonplace in the last few years. Gone are the days when our conference was just a three-day meeting.

I hope you had a chance to stop by our sixth annual Social Media Lounge. Breakout sessions at the lounge covered such hot topics as social media during school emergencies and implementing social media to support a school district’s mission. Meanwhile, our conference hashtag—#NCE2020—generated a whopping 30 million impressions during a four-day period. I invite you to join the conversation if you hadn’t already.

Once again, thank you for joining us in San Diego. I look forward to seeing you at our 2021 National Conference on Education in New Orleans!

Daniel A. Domenech
Executive Director
AASA, The School Superintendents Association

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