Nashville Postscript: A Few Reflections and a Heartfelt Thank You to our ‘Heroes’

Since the conclusion of the 2022 edition of AASA’s National Conference on Education, I’ve had a few reflections I’ve been meaning to share.

Superintendents tell me they’re still beaming over February’s convening in Nashville. Whether you were among the record crowd of more than 4,700 who joined us or not, at a time when our public schools continue to serve as the backbone of our democracy, let me say thank you for the outstanding work you’re doing.

Our previous in-person national conference was two years ago in San Diego, only a few weeks before COVID-19 reared its ugly head. Who would have predicted then that we would still be battling this virus?

My message to the packed audience at the Music City Center was simple: Now more than ever, superintendents have truly been champions for the children they serve. They’re looking not only to survive the pandemic but to thrive on behalf of America’s young learners.

It’s been a difficult road to say the least. Many of our colleagues have been subject to verbal abuse. There have been numerous threats against them and in some cases, threats against their families. The pressures of the job have led to too many district leaders leaving the profession willingly or otherwise. Reporters’ requests come in, seemingly on an everyday basis, asking me to comment on the rapid turnover rate that is causing a leadership drain right before our very eyes.

We at AASA are doing all we can to support you. We sincerely hope our conference provided you—America’s foremost thought leaders in public education—with a platform to reenergize. We hope there were ample opportunities to network with noted practitioners in the field, and highly acclaimed researchers and peers from across the country as you continue the fight for equity, and the safety and welfare of our nation’s children.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona could not have put it any plainer when he appeared on our stage and said, “We don’t spend enough time talking about the positive impact on the emotional well-being of our students because of the hard work of everyone in this room.”

Hard work is right. And speaking of which, let me congratulate Missouri’s Curtis Cain, superintendent of the Wentzville School District, for being named the 2022 National Superintendent of the Year®. “If a skinny kid from the north side of Milwaukee, Wis., can stand on this stage at this point in time, I’m telling you, public education is worth the fight,” he told the overflow audience. Congratulations as well to the three other finalists: Quincy Natay (Chinle Unified School District No. 24, Chinle, Ariz.), Kamela Patton (Collier County Public Schools, Naples, Fla.) and Noris Price (Baldwin County Schools, Milledgeville, Ga.). I thank AIG Retirement Services and First Student for sponsoring our program.

At a time when AASA is working diligently to honor outstanding female leaders in our field, I also wish to congratulate the 2022 Women in School Leadership honorees: Sharon Contreras, superintendent of Guilford County Schools in Greensboro, N.C. and Susan Field, assistant superintendent for learning services, Academy District 20, in Colorado Springs, Colo. No one can argue that a major component of working toward equitable solutions in our school systems is recognizing the outstanding leadership from women who are making a positive difference in the lives of children. We thank Horace Mann for sponsoring this award.

Did you happen to stop by our Wellness Center? As part of AASA’s “Live Well. Lead Well.” campaign, we wanted to make sure you had a chance to relax and unwind at a specific area dedicated to your self-care. I couldn’t agree more with my friend, Paul Imhoff, superintendent of Ohio’s Upper Arlington Schools and the 2021-22 president of AASA, when he said, “Leaders who aren’t well, cannot lead. Teachers who aren’t well cannot teach and students who aren’t well cannot learn.”

(Watch the video: “Therapy Pups Pull in the Crowds at AASA Wellness Center, Promoting Various Measures for Attending to Superintendent Self-Care.”)

Speaking of attractions, once again, our Social Media Lounge, enjoying its eighth consecutive year of operation, drew scores of tech-savvy superintendents who are making efforts to bolster their knowledge on telling positive stories with their constituents through the social media space. I invite you to join the conversation by accessing #NCE2022 if you haven’t done so. Many already have as our hashtag generated 24.2 million impressions throughout conference week. I also encourage you to access Conference Daily Online to catch up on anything you may have missed. The four issues contained a total of 80 news stories, 21 short video clips and nearly 20 blog postings by four superintendents.

As you know, gone are the days when our conference is a Thursday-through-Saturday gathering. Given our robust professional development programs administered by AASA’s Leadership Network, our annual meeting stretches far beyond a three-day window as it begins at the beginning of the week and concludes with our third General Session, six days later. I had the opportunity to visit superintendents and other administrators taking part in our National Superintendent Certification Program®. A thought I shared with them can certainly apply to all of you: “We’re constantly learning. Things are constantly changing. In light of the challenges you’re facing and the stress you’re under—you are my heroes.”

Yes, these are challenging times, but without question, this moment presents unique opportunities regarding how to best use the mandate for change with an abundance of significant new federal resources to redesign education. We can move toward the theme of this conference, a more student-centered, equity-focused, and future-driven approach to public education as set forth in our Learning 2025 framework. At a time when we just passed the one-year anniversary of when the American Rescue Plan was sign into law, we look forward to working with both Congress and the administration on policy changes that can enhance the success of ARP investment and the ability to meet the pandemic-related needs of our most vulnerable students.

Once again, thank you for joining us in Nashville. I look forward to seeing you at our 2023 National Conference on Education in San Antonio!

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