Thank you to our Nation’s Champions for Children

This week, millions of Americans will gather around dining room tables all over the country and give thanks to the people who mean the most to them.

Let me take this opportunity to say “thank you” to the individuals who I consider the foremost thought leaders in education—our superintendents.

Last week, the nation’s State Superintendents of the Year convened in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the tremendous strides made in public education. They also exchanged ideas and best practices that are working in their respective school districts.

AASA 2016 National Superintendent of the Year Thomas S. Tucker presenting at AASA's Superintendent of the Year Gala in Washington, D.C.

AASA 2016 National Superintendent of the Year Thomas S. Tucker presenting at AASA’s Superintendent of the Year Gala in Washington, D.C., on November 15, 2016.

As part of our Forum, we heard from Thomas Tucker, the 2016 National Superintendent of the Year. (See video). The parents and grandparents of this young man were sharecroppers in an impoverished Arkansas community. Tucker, the superintendent of Ohio’s Princeton City Schools, grew up in a house heated only by two pot-bellied stoves. Yet, his family instilled in him that to rise out of poverty, one must earn a first-class education. During his keynote remarks, he said, “I had some of the best caring and compassionate teachers in the world. All of us were poor but [our teachers] wouldn’t let us develop a poor mentality.”

Over the past few weeks through our leadership programs, we have seen glowing examples of caring and compassionate teaching and learning going on in the U.S.

In late September, some of our superintendents met in Vista, Calif. as part of the Personalized Learning Summit. At a time when more than 100 school systems across the country are implementing personalized learning initiatives, this innovative practice has become a powerful way to reach every child to meet their specific needs. I thank California Superintendent of the Year Devin Vodicka and his school district, Vista Unified, for hosting this summit.

Members of AASA's Digital Consortium meeting at California’s Napa Valley Unified School District.

Members of AASA’s Digital Consortium meeting at California’s Napa Valley Unified School District.

A few weeks later, several dozen superintendents met in California’s Napa Valley Unified School District for the fall meeting of AASA’s Digital Consortium. As Jill Gildea, superintendent of Illinois’ Fremont School District, tweeted during the meeting, “learning and engagement is evident.” New Technology High School was among the schools visited during the meeting. Principal Riley Johnson stated, “We have teachers here who are some of the best project-based practitioners I’ve ever met.” Part of New Tech’s mission is “to be a student-centered model for education innovation.” The gathering proved to be very successful, giving tech-savvy superintendents opportunities to bring proven ideas back home when it comes to digital learning.

Earlier this month, representatives from K-12 leadership and heads of community colleges met for the fourth time in two years to raise awareness about one of the most critical issues in education today: college readiness. As part of our partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges, the meeting was an example of what it means to blur the lines with school districts and community colleges as we find new ways to get kids ready for college and later life.

As I travel throughout the country, I am pleased to see more and more superintendents engaging with other superintendents and education stakeholders to improve their individual skill sets and strengthen their respective school districts.

America’s education system is the best in the world. Our graduate rate is the highest it’s ever been. Our drop-out rate is the lowest it’s ever been. More kids today are attending college than ever before. It’s no wonder that our superintendents are our nation’s champions for children. They are the educational ambassadors in their communities.

Thank you for the outstanding work you do. Happy Thanksgiving!

Taking ‘Future Ready’ Beyond the Pledge

It was two years ago that AASA collaborated with the Department of Education to invite 118 Superintendents to the White House to meet with President Obama for the launch of Future Ready. At the event, the Superintendents in attendance along with more than 1,000 more around the country took the Future Ready Pledge. Since then, AASA has been working with superintendents and school systems in every state to promote the transformation of education as we know it through personalized learning.

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Educators have dreamt about individualizing education for every child since the 1960s. In spite of valiant efforts on the part of teachers and administrators, it was impossible for a teacher with twenty-some students in a class to provide personalized instruction on a day to day basis throughout the entire school year. Recent advances in technology, however, have made it possible for personalized learning to take place. AASA has been in the forefront of advocating for personalized learning as the goal of the digital leap. Technology for the sake of technology is a costly mistake and we continue to caution our superintendents to undertake the necessary planning and training before rushing to buy a laptop for every child.

The President’s ConnectEd proposal promises that 99 percent of American students will have access to next-generation broadband by 2018. Two years ago a major step was taken to accomplish that goal when the Federal Communications Commission increased the E-rate spending cap to $3.9 billion. The E-rate has become one of the major sources of federal funding for schools and libraries and superintendents are taking advantage of this funding by bringing wireless internet service into their classrooms. This enables teachers to deliver individualized content to digital devices used by the students. A parent walking into such a classroom will experience a very different view of education than the rows of student desks facing the front of the room and the lecturing teacher that was their norm. Instead they see students scattered around the classroom, some sitting at desks others on the floor, some working alone, others in small groups. All of them engaged. The teacher is not lecturing the whole class but wonders around the room providing help and support as needed.

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Today AASA’s Digital and Personalized Learning Consortia include hundreds of school systems throughout the country. The superintendents leading those districts meet on a regular basis and communicate with each other frequently to exchange ideas and solutions. Taking advantage of social media channels like Twitter, the superintendents conduct regular chats on #suptchat and use Apps like Voxer to stay in touch. It’s not just the kids that are taking advantage of the technology and social platforms.

We are seeing significant changes and growth taking place in our districts and hopefully the beginning of a transformation of education as we have known it. All for the better. The future is here.