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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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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Shining Lights in Public Education

(Pictured from left to right: David Schuler, Amy Sieu, Daniel Domenech, Wendy Robinson, Mike Winstead.)

AASA, The School Superintendents Association, recently announced the four finalists for the 2018 Superintendent of the Year, a program graciously sponsored by VALIC and First Student. This is our opportunity to showcase four champions for children and put outstanding school district leaders from communities large and small on the national stage. It marks a time to place the spotlight on the superintendency — a profession I often say is the most difficult job in America, yet the most rewarding.

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A Long, Hot Summer

Some of the images we’re seeing on television and stories we’re reading about in our local newspapers are describing some of the most disappointing and disheartening moments in the history of our country.

What has made it even more alarming? The violence, compounded with the flurry of discussions focusing on bigotry and hate, come at a time when we should be focusing on a more exciting time — the start of a new school year.

Make no mistake that these incidents are on the minds of every superintendent, principal, teacher and any other advocate for public education. Walk into any supermarket, bakery, barbershop, beauty salon or gas station and I would be surprised if people aren’t talking about it. The question remains, as I mentioned in a recent press statement, how do the leaders of the more than 13,000 public school systems pull through?

Once again, let me thank AASA members for the outstanding work they do in preparing our nation’s young people for the unique demands and challenges they will undoubtedly face in their lives beyond high school.

The examples of outstanding work being done by our superintendents are endless, but let me pinpoint just a few. I invite you to take a listen to the latest AASA Radio segment. Matt Utterback, the superintendent of Oregon’s North Clackamas School District and the 2017 AASA National Superintendent of the Year®, rightly points out that the academic success of the generations of students of tomorrow, is equally, if not more important to the academic success of students in our schools today.

Earlier this summer, Gail Pletnick, superintendent of Arizona’s Dysart Unified School District 89, was sworn in as the 2017-18 president of AASA. An outstanding leader in every sense, Gail proudly asserts the importance of redefining, redesigning and reimagining teaching and learning environments in our schools as a way to improve the overall quality of our school systems and communities.

 

Finally, in late July, Illinois superintendents Mike Lubelfeld (Deerfield Public School District 109) and Nick Polyak (Leyden High School District 212) successfully led AASA’s Digital Consortium summer meeting in suburban Chicago, where dozens of administrators engaged in meaningful dialogue about model digital transitions to improve student achievement.

AASA recently launched its I Love Public Education (#LovePublicEducation) campaign, an on-going effort to highlight why public schools are essential to developing the future generations that will maintain our country’s status as a world leader. Shortly following the Labor Day holiday, we will formally introduce another section of our website that provides a collection of resources about equity for school system leaders at all levels to help them and their teams succeed.

Who could’ve imagined the inflammable rhetoric that has taken place in our nation over the past few days? Not many of us could have foreseen the most fundamental fabric of our country — the public schools in our communities — being threatened by the ugliness of the actions that have been carried out by a selected few.

I am unboundedly confident that despite the rhetoric, our nation’s public school system leaders will rise to the occasion. They will speak out about the value of the public schools in their respective communities. They will speak out about the partnership that we, as educators, have with families throughout our urban, suburban and rural communities. This is a partnership to ensure that all children in these communities will receive the quality education that they deserve and that they are entitled to.

 

Daniel A. Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.   

Four Bright Stars in Public Education

The four finalists for the 2017 AASA National Superintendent of the Year participating in a panel discussion on current trends in education on Thursday, Jan. 12 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

While educators continue to wonder about the impact that the incoming administration will have on education, I’m excited about four of the brightest stars in public education. These individuals visited the nation’s capital earlier this month. I’m referring to the finalists for the 2017 National Superintendent of the Year.

AASA’s executive committee joined me in hosting these champions for children during our press conference at the National Press Club. Without a doubt, choosing the eventual honoree will be a tough task for our blue-ribbon panel of judges.

Our finalists have tremendous passion for what they do. Here is an excerpt of what they shared, demonstrating their commitment to their work and more importantly, their commitment to the students they serve:

Barbara Jenkins, Orange County (Fla.) Public Schools: “It’s reaffirming to our community and to our schools that we’re headed in the right direction, that we’re doing work that is recognized at a national level. I want to commend every superintendent across this nation because they do such critical work for our young people.”

Stewart McDonald, Kodiak Island Borough (Alaska) School District: “Our schools are such a central component of every one of our towns. Businesses are involved in our schools, our communities are involved in our schools so this feels like a validation of the incredible work we have formed in our collaborative partnerships.”

James Merrill, Wake County (N.C.) Public School System: “Public education in America is one of the last great institutions. It is what delivers our people to be enlightened and informed adults to preserve our democracy.”

Matthew Utterback, North Clackamas (Ore.) School District: “It’s an incredible honor to represent our school district and the state of Oregon. Our success in our school district has really been a collaborative and team effort. The National Superintendent of the Year has the opportunity to share stories, to share learning, to share the good work that is happening across our country.”

Hundreds of superintendents and other school system leaders will convene in New Orleans, March 2-4, where the eventual honoree will be announced during Day 1 of our National Conference on Education.

I invite you to view our latest video where you’ll hear more from Superintendents Jenkins, McDonald, Merrill and Utterback.

AASA is grateful to Aramark and VALIC for serving as co-sponsors of the National Superintendent of the Year program.

Dan Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.

 

An Education Priority: More Women in Leadership Roles

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Mary Alice Heuschel, 2011 AASA National Superintendent of the Year finalist, speaking at the 2016 Women in School Leadership Forum.

Earlier this month, AASA, The School Superintendents Association, announced the finalists for the 2017 Women in School Leadership Awards. Co-sponsored by AASA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, these awards are designed to recognize leading female administrators who are making a positive difference for their respective communities as well as the students they serve.

This year, we added a new category—the School Based Award—an award that provides a pathway for AASA to support more women educators in developing leadership skills and advancing their careers.

On the heels of this announcement, AASA collaborated with the Association of California School Administrators for the sixth annual Women in School Leadership Forum. Approximately 250 women educators convened in Newport Beach, Calif., in late September to network, discuss leadership and examine ways to climb career ladders.

Speakers at the forum were women business leaders including Marita Zuraitis, the CEO of Horace Mann. She told her audience to “play to your strengths and be a problem solver. It’s up to you whether things are obstacles or roadblocks. Or, do you look at them as opportunities?”

Mary Alice Heuschel was a 2011 AASA National Superintendent of the Year finalist and is currently the deputy director for U.S. programs with the Gates Foundation. A speaker at the forum, she said, “Fail forward. Get up, dust yourself off and continue to move ahead. In failure, we discover how to improve. Every successful person has failed along the way.”

Fewer than 25 percent of America’s superintendents—the leaders of our nation’s public school districts—are women. It’s clear that a lot of work needs to be done to bring more women into leadership roles. Putting more females in leadership positions is essential if we’re going to raise the bar in our profession and send a signal to more female students who may wish to pursue education administration as a career.

I am pleased that AASA is doing its part to grow the careers of women educators. In addition to our School Leadership Awards and Forums, we recently selected 20 accomplished women leaders from school districts across the country to participate in the inaugural cohort of the AASA Aspiring Women Leaders Program. The initiative was launched to help mitigate the impact of social barriers women face in ascending to the top leadership positions within our school systems and to significantly increase the number of women seeking and becoming CEOs and superintendents of schools.

As a participant in this program, women will receive:

  • Mentoring and coaching from a member of the AASA National Women’s Leadership Consortium;
  • Opportunities to network and collaborate with other aspiring women leaders from across the country; and
  • Opportunities to gain national visibility through presentations at AASA meetings and in webinars.

All of these activities represent a longstanding tradition of AASA applauding outstanding female education practitioners. Through these programs and activities, we don’t expect it will be long before we see a decrease in the gender gap when it comes to education administration.

For information about our Women in School Leadership programs and initiatives, please contact MaryAnn P. Jobe, AASA director, education and leadership development, at mjobe@aasa.org.

AASA’s Final Four

SOY Finalists Group 1 -1This is an exciting time for AASA, The School Superintendents Association. It’s also an exciting time for school system leadership and public education.

In two weeks, hundreds of superintendents will convene in Phoenix, Ariz., for the National Conference on Education where AASA’s 2016 National Superintendent of the Year will be announced.

I couldn’t be prouder of our finalists. I had the opportunity to meet them during our press conference at the National Press Club in mid-January. In my view, we have four winners. I know it will be a difficult choice for our panel of judges.

One thing among others that impresses me about our finalists—they all have tremendous passion for what they do. Here is what they shared with us about being a superintendent:

Pamela Moran, Albemarle County (Va.) Public Schools: “Nothing is more important than the profession of education. We need to keep elevating that message. Being a superintendent has an incredible responsibility—to see that all kids get the best learning opportunities available.”

Thomas Tucker, Princeton City (Ohio) Schools: “This business is about improving the lives of our children. I stand with more than 13,000 committed individuals who advocate for the goals of public education.”

Steven Webb, Vancouver (Wash.) Public Schools: “This work is about transforming the lives of children, and cultivating hope and opportunity in young people. I feel so blessed that my avocation and vocation are one in the same.”

Freddie Williamson, Hoke County (N.C.) Schools: “My life’s dream has always been to serve as a superintendent of a public school system. Public education has provided me with an opportunity to reach my life’s dream. It means that I’m going to be an inspiration to others.”

The 2016 Superintendent of the Year will be announced on Day 1 of our national conference, Thursday, Feb. 11. Congratulations to these outstanding individuals.

I invite you to view our latest video where you’ll hear more from Superintendents Moran, Tucker, Webb and Williamson.

Dan Domenech is the executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.

Day 7: A Look at the American International School in Vienna

Day 7 Austria

Dan Domenech with Director Stephen Razidlo and a student at the American International School of Vienna.

Vienna, Austria – There is a piece of the United States in Vienna. It is the American International School there.

Stephen Razidlo, former superintendent in Brainerd, Minn., is now the director of the Pre-K-12 system serving nearly 800 students. It is interesting to note that the majority of the students here are not Americans but Austrians and students from more than 40 countries seeking an American-style education.

American International Schools are in essence private, tuition-charging schools that cater primarily to the children of our diplomatic core in those countries and to the children of other Americans living abroad. However, they also accept students from the host country and other foreign students living there.

Our delegation was very impressed with the visit. The elementary school was celebrating United Nations Day and children were urged to come to school wearing their native garb. The photo above portrays a young lady in a Russian costume.

Cultural understanding and acceptance in such a bicultural setting is essential. Director Razidlo shared that in the height of the Russian-Ukraine conflict, students from those countries attending the school continued to maintain cordial relations with each other.

It was interesting to note that the school follows the Common Core curriculum, even though they are not required to do so at the elementary and middle schools, and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program at the high school level.

Tomorrow, we will review the differences between the Austrian and the American schools and why it’s popular with the parents who send their children there.

Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, is blogging throughout AASA’s International Seminar Delegation in Austria.

Day 5: The Learning Tracks in Austria

High school students in Vienna prepared snacks to sell and raise money for refugees.

High school students in Vienna prepared snacks to sell and raise money for refugees.

Vienna, Austria – Austria is a small country with a big heart. Despite just having 8 million residents, the country takes in 10,000 Syrian refugees a day and everybody is pitching in to help. Students at one of the schools we visited prepared snacks to sell in school to raise money for the refugees.

Universities are free in Austria. Students we spoke to are in the academic or “gymnasium” track and are expected to go to college. That decision was made when they were 10 years old at the end of primary school. Students not selected for the academic track go on to vocational programs and learn a trade. Two-thirds of Austrian students are in the vocational track.

Such a system would never fly in the U.S. Austrian education reformers rightfully consider such an important decision at such a young age to be inappropriate. Although some Austrians suggest that students always have opportunities to get into the academic track, the majority of those we spoke to admitted that it rarely happens.

On the plus side, vocational programs provide participants with opportunities to learn a trade. These programs offer wonderful apprenticeships resulting in gainful employment and a low unemployment rate for Austria.

Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, is blogging throughout AASA’s International Seminar Delegation in Austria.

Day 4: A Visit with American Students at Salzburg College

NSBA Pres. Miranda Beard (far left) and AASA Pres. David Schuler (center) meet with American students at Salzburg College.

NSBA Pres. Miranda Beard (far left) and AASA Pres. David Schuler (center) meet with American students at Salzburg College.

Salzburg, Austria—We are at Salzburg College visiting with a group of American exchange students. Most of them are here for the fall semester but several will be staying on for the entire year.

Students come from all corners of America and admit this is a wonderful opportunity for them. Most did not speak German when they arrived, but they are quickly gaining fluency in the language. They spent the first week in Munich and then traveled to Vienna before settling in for their classes.

Miranda Beard, president of the National School Boards Association, asked, “What was the most important thing they would be taking away from this experience?” The group unanimously agreed that it would be the immersion in a different language and culture, and a better understanding of the world outside of the U.S. Indeed, Salzburg College’s vision for the program aims at “teaching students to think critically in a global world, as well as gaining academic and professional skills, and skills for life.”

Certainly all of us visiting the program were envious of the experience and wished that we could have done it in our college days.

Most students will receive full credit for the experience from their home institutions and many were able to secure financial aid. The full-year students have internships lined up for the spring semester, which will add immeasurable experience to their resumes as they seek employment after graduation.

Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, is blogging throughout AASA’s International Seminar Delegation in Austria.