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.

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Celebrating Public Education in San Diego

Our country soon kicks off a weeklong celebration on behalf of the more than 50 million students who are learning and growing in our nation’s public schools.

Throughout Public Schools Week 2020 (Feb. 24-28), school systems large and small will showcase the good news happening inside their classrooms. This annual recognition highlights the critical role public education plays in shaping our nation’s  future and underscores why it serves as the bedrock of our democracy.

Considering that nine out of 10 children attend public schools, there is no better time than now to speak out for our young learners.

This celebration will get a jump-start when hundreds of superintendents—the CEOs of our public school districts and America’s ambassadors of great learning—arrive in San Diego for the 2020 National Conference on Education (Feb. 13-15), hosted by AASA, The School Superintendents Association. Year in, year out, this annual gathering attracts some of the country’s foremost education thought leaders addressing the needs of every child, every day.

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Meeting the Social Emotional Needs of Our Students

My education career started as a 6th grade teacher in New York City, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn and the Cambria Heights neighborhood in Queens. Both areas were noted for students from low income minority and immigrant families. Today we would refer to them as Title I schools.

I quickly perceived that my students were not coming to school ready to learn. They were distracted, lacked discipline and were not motivated. Many came to school hungry, sick and preoccupied with issues at home. I had the advantage of being a fluent Spanish speaker and young. Many of the students gravitated towards me as they felt that I was one of them.

Those were the days that preceded the No Child Left Behind era of accountability based on student test scores. My students were tested but the standardized test scores were unavailable for at least two years. By then most of the students were gone. Also, my principal was happy to have an adult in each classroom. Teacher turn-over was a major factor.

The situation was there that empowered me to take a step back from academics and focus on the needs of the students.

The Cambria Heights school I taught in was only two blocks away from the home I lived in with my parents. I began walking home for lunch and taking four or five students with me. My mother would make them sandwiches and afterwards we would shoot some hoops in the driveway.

Not a doable situation today.

The result was that I developed a rapport with my students so that they responded to the dignity I showed them with respect towards me. I quickly realized that they were willing to learn from me, that I could teach them and that my positive reaction to their improved performance in itself became a reward for them.

Today we refer to this process as social emotional learning. By addressing the needs of their students teachers earn their respect and conversely the students are more willing to learn. Fifty-two years after I started teaching, my daughter is also a sixth grade teacher working with a student population very similar to the students I taught. In conversations with her she shares with me her adventures in the classroom. Although she does not have the freedom I enjoyed, she treats her students with dignity and they in turn return her efforts with their respect. She has already won the accolades of her administrators by obtaining test scores that would not be expected for her students. Students that are not in her class gravitate towards her because her students talk to their friends.

I smile as she shares her stories with me. She shows me the notes she receives from her students showing great appreciation for what she does for them. I am incredibly proud of her and in my conceit I say that she takes after her dad.

I hope that American education has turned the corner and we are more concerned about the needs of our students than we are about their test scores. Suicide rates and drug usage is rampant. Students are being shot in their classrooms. Students are sick and hungry because we are denying them food and medical services. If we take care of them their scores will take care of themselves.

A Visit to the Rabat American School

Our last school visit in Morocco took us to the Rabat American School. Principal Sean Goudie was a most welcoming and gracious host. The school is brand new and located in a spacious campus by the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. They accommodate 450 pre-k to 12th grade students who come from 44 different countries. The majority, however, are American and Moroccan.

The AASA International Delegation with Rabat American School Principal Sean Goudie.
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Equity: A ‘Work in Progress’

This year’s AASA International Seminar is special. The delegation includes current AASA President Deb Kerr, President-elect Kristi Sandvik and Past-presidents Pat Neudecker, Amy Sichel and Gail Pletnick.

AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech is in Morocco with five AASA Presidents. From left to right, Pat Neudecker, Amy Sichel, Kristi Sandvik, Deb Kerr and Gail Pletnick.
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Next Stop for the AASA International Delegation: Kchait Primary School

The Berberes are the oldest inhabitants of Morocco. Their language, along with Arabic, is the official language of the country.

We visited the Kchait Primary School in the outskirts of Ait-Ben-Haddou. We traveled across the High Atlas Mountains, the highest point in Morocco, to get there.

The AASA International Delegation at the Kchait Primary school in Morocco.
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We’re not in Kansas Anymore

Every year at this time, the AASA International Seminar takes superintendents and other interested parties to other parts of the world. The intent is to learn about the educational systems and cultures in the places we visit. These trips never fail to make an impression on the participants.

This year’s trip to Morocco is no exception. It’s an hour bus ride through arid, desolate land to our first school visit to a tribal school in the remote hills outside of Marrakech. A brown landscape is sprinkled with the occasional green of scrub vegetation.

We learn from our guide that the school is very excited about our visit and that they have been preparing for it for days. This will not be a typical school visit. We are in a remote area that is home to one of the many isolated tribes that have occupied the territory for hundreds of years.

AASA President Deb Kerr smiles for a selfie with school students.
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A Special Kind of Love for Children in Morocco

This year, the AASA International Seminar takes us to Morocco. The education system here provides free schooling that includes six years of a primary education, three years of middle and intermediate schooling and three years of secondary. School attendance is compulsory up to the age of 13. The system focuses on erasing illiteracy and the languages of instruction are Arabic and French. Pre-primary programs are also available to children of ages 4-6.

Students in class at Ecole Lhadchat, a tribal school outside the city of Merrakech.

This year’s  Delegation includes 22 participants. AASA President Deb Kerr and AASA President-elect Kristi Sandvik are part of the group along with three AASA Past-Presidents. Our first school visit was to the Ecole Lhadchat, a tribal school outside the city of Merrakech. It is a school of 110 students at the primary level. The school operates a daily split session with half of them attending in the morning and the other half in the afternoon.

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Brown Deer Falcon Takes Helm as AASA President

On behalf of the AASA, let me congratulate Deb Kerr, who was sworn in earlier this month in Washington, D.C. as the 2019-20 president of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. A bona fide champion for children, the superintendent of The School District of Brown Deer in Brown Deer, Wis., brings a special dedication and commitment to her new role.

The first female superintendent to serve in that role at Brown Deer Schools, her district lies in the suburbs of Milwaukee with more than 1,600 students. Three out of every four are students of color and nearly half are living in poverty.

Deborah L. Kerr, superintendent, School District of Brown Deer, Wis., being sworn in on July 9, as the 2019-20 president of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.
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Economic Reconsideration of the College Track


By Daniel A. Domenech/School Administrator, June 2019

I RECENTLY HAD the opportunity to travel to Warsaw, Poland, where I gave a presentation titled “It’s Just Not About a College Degree” at the Council of Eastern European Schools Association. This is hardly a revolutionary idea to our colleagues abroad where apprenticeship programs have flourished for hundreds of years and where typically, from the 6th grade on, students either enter the “gymnasium,” or academic program, or follow a vocational track.

Those students on the academic track are the ones who in all probability will attend and graduate from a university while the students on the vocational track will learn a skill in an apprenticeship program coupled with schoolwork that will lead to certification and employment in a trade.

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