Remembering 911

he Message of an Unforgettable Day
By Daniel A. Domenech/School Administrator, September 2018


THE FAIRFAX COUNTY Public Schools’ leadership team always met on Tuesday mornings. On Sept. 11, 2001, my administrative assistant walked into the meeting room to place a note in front of me. It read: “The North Tower of the World Trade Center has been hit by an airplane.” She did so because she knew that, as a New Yorker, I would be interested.

Initially, I assumed the pilot of a small plane, blinded by sunlight, had crashed into the building. Half an hour later she came back to inform me another airplane had crashed into the South Tower. Recognizing this as an improbable coincidence, I dismissed the meeting and requested everyone return to their posts. I had barely reached my office when the report came in that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon.

Fairfax County, where I was the superintendent, not only is located in proximity to the Pentagon, but it also is home to CIA headquarters, the National Reconnaissance Center and Fort Belvoir, all major military and intelligence operations. When my phone rang, an agent from one of the federal agencies informed me of the likelihood we were under attack and that additional planes were in the air with targets unknown, but certainly in our area.

Rapid Mobilization
We had to mobilize quickly. Every September, our district sends all of its 5th graders — about 13,000 — to the Wolf Trap International Children’s Festival. It’s a special, youth-oriented cultural affair dedicated to the performing, visual and interactive arts. Because Wolf Trap is located eight miles from CIA headquarters, I realized our students were on buses that were near a potential target. I immediately called my transportation director and instructed him to contact all the buses and have them return the children to their respective schools — 140 elementary schools spread across the county.

Television news then flashed the bulletin that another plane had crashed in western Pennsylvania. The possibility that we were under attack was credible. Panic and chaos quickly spread throughout the Washington, D.C., region. I sent a message to all 190 schools and centers that they were now on lockdown. Not knowing how long the situation would last, the directive was that no child would be allowed to leave school unless picked up by an authorized adult. Similarly, all staff were directed to remain at their posts until further notice. At that point, the overwhelmed communication systems crashed, and we were all in the dark, waiting for the next explosion, the next attack.

Hours passed without any additional incidents, but the escape out of the D.C. area created massive traffic jams. Many parents were unable to retrieve their children until late that evening. They were appreciative that the schools had kept them in a safe environment rather than dismissing them into a potential war zone. I was incredibly proud of our staff who, to an individual, remained at their posts until the last child was retrieved. Many had friends and relatives at the Pentagon and were aware of the assault on that facility, but they stayed to protect the children under their care.

After the smoke cleared and search and rescue operations were completed at the Pentagon, we learned more than 200 had lost their lives there, many of them the spouses, relatives and friends of our staff.

Conscious Avoidance
As a former New Yorker, I hold many memories of the World Trade Center. The New York State Education Department had offices in the building, where I attended many meetings. I had been part of many conferences at the hotel in the building complex, as well as dinners at Windows on the World atop the North Tower.

The New York City Education Department also had offices at the World Trade Center, and it was there in 1995 that the city’s board of education voted unanimously to name me its chancellor of schools, an appointment that lasted only 24 hours, but that’s another story.

I had consciously avoided visiting the 911 Memorial & Museum. I was not sure I could handle the memories it would evoke. I recently made the trip, 17 years later. I am glad I did because it will forever be a reminder of the 2,996 lives lost and the more than 6,000 people injured by an attack on our country’s mainland. I found it’s also a good reminder of how important it is that we remain a United States of America.


DANIEL DOMENECH
is AASA executive director. Twitter: @AASADan

Back-to-School: Start Spreading the News

As long as I’ve been working in public education, this time of year has always been very special. On behalf of the entire AASA family, we hope our superintendents and those aspiring to become superintendents have a fantastic school year filled with the creation of positive solutions that will translate into greater academic outcomes for our students.

I’ve been saying for years that superintendents are the nation’s foremost thought leaders in public education. Last week, our school system leaders spoke out about some very critical issues that directly affect the lives of our students. We need to listen to what was said and do something about it.

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Redefining Ready!: Changing The Trajectory of Our Students’ Dreams

Our high schools are brimming with innovators. There are scores of students from coast to coast driven by ideas and dreams of a better tomorrow.

I recently read an article in a newspaper focused on a discussion between a community college president and a U.S. Senator about how poorly we’re preparing kids for college. The piece contained no authentic examination of data to prove their argument.

Students attending Virginia Beach (Va.) City Public Schools

As schools across the country open their doors for the new academic year, we as educators need to think about what I believe should be our No. 1 goal—changing the trajectory of our students’ journeys and the lives of their families in order for our communities to dream differently.

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5 Suggestions for Leaders: Developing a Portrait of a 21st Century Graduate

By Aaron Spence, Virginia Beach City Public Schools, and Ken Kay, EdLeader21

Aaron Spence [left] and Ken Kay [right].

Some of the most exciting and impactful work happening in school systems across the country is around the development of a Portrait of a Graduate, a collective vision articulating a community’s aspirations for all students. We have observed a growing energy and interest in the Portrait of a Graduate among superintendents and other district leaders nationwide. In fact, the cover story of the August 2018 issue of American School Board Journal featured the stories of school systems that are implementing a Portrait of a Graduate.

As more school systems explore the development of a Portrait of a Graduate, we wanted to share 5 lessons we have learned in working with leaders of districts aspiring to prepare their students for 21st century challenges.

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Six Questions to Ask when Choosing a CCR Platform

When students have a plan, they are more likely to execute on it and align their postsecondary path with their life goals. And when students are engaged in school, they are more likely to persist, get better grades and stay out of trouble. An increased focus on college, career and life readiness for K-12 schools has created an urgency for districts to implement, track and report outcomes related to college and career readiness.

Because of this, we are seeing an emergence of tools designed to help districts with their CCLR initiatives. These products come at various price points and assist with a variety of readiness needs. When evaluating a CCLR solution, it is important to know what you are getting, what you are measuring, and how your student data will be used.

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AASA President: Huge ‘Gaines’ for Public Education

July is always a special time for AASA. Hundreds of superintendents across the country—some of the sharpest minds in public education—gathered in the nation’s capital last week to discuss some of the most critical issues in public education as part of our annual Legislative Advocacy Conference.

The meeting marked three days of invaluable conversation focusing on such hot-button issues as school safety, appropriations, career and technical education, the Higher Education Act, teacher shortages, IDEA and Medicaid. AASA members—individuals I often refer to as “champions for children”—made their voices heard by visiting members of Congress from their respective districts and states to share opinions on these important matters.

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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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Managing Class Conduct Nonverbally

Managing Class Conduct Nonverbally
By Daniel A. Domenech/School Administrator, April 2018

CLASSROOM CIVILITY can depend greatly on classroom management. Those of us who have spent time in the classroom fully recognize that little learning will take place in an out-of-control classroom.

In “The Key to Classroom Management” article in Educational Leadership (September 2003), Robert Marzano says research has shown us that “teachers’ actions in their classrooms have twice the impact on student achievement as do school policies regarding curriculum, assessment, staff collegiality and community involvement.”

Many strategies are available to teachers. I recently came upon a program that Pillager Elementary School in central Minnesota is implementing in their classrooms with impressive results. It is a classroom management model that combines nonverbal communication for both teaching and managing. The Pillager School District is within the region serviced by the National Joint Powers Alliance, a service agency with cooperative purchasing nationwide and one of AASA’s premier partners. NJPA is funding the training of Pillager staff in the use of the ENVoY nonverbal classroom management system.

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