Building Clarity on Reinvention

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Building Clarity on Reinvention

By: Rodney Watson, Lupita Hinojosa, Matt Pariseau (Spring Independent School District, Texas) &
Michael Duncan, Jennifer Allison (Pike County School District, Ga.)

BuildingClarity1
Spring ISD parent advisory committee supper with the superintendent


As superintendents and district leaders, we know our school systems require reinvention to equitably meet the needs of each learner in a rapidly changing world. We knew this before the multiple crises of the past year and half, and we felt it even more strongly during 2020-21. So, when AASA and Transcend launched the first Roads to Reinvention Community of Practice in the fall of 2020, we immediately signed on.

We joined a national community of six districts and a regional service agency, all of whom wanted to think together about how to reinvent our systems in a time of unprecedented uncertainty and change.

We began by exploring how student experiences needed to be designed differently to leap from a one-size-fits-all, inequitable industrial model of learning to an equitable, 21st century design. These 10 Leaps helped us clearly and concisely articulate the before and after we were aiming for, and we were able to readily identify a specific, Leaps-aligned initiative already underway in our districts. For Spring ISD, the initiative was our six elementary and middle school Innovation Zone pilots. At Pike County Schools, the focus was deeper learning work resulting from our Portrait of a Graduate initiative.

As we all know, initiatives don’t always succeed. They need to be nurtured and tended to with care. We spent the bulk of our eight-month journey on the Road to Reinvention exploring as leadership teams—and a community of leadership teams—the conditions that enable innovation to take root and spread: conviction, clarity, coalition, capacity, and culture. We began with a conditions self-assessment, individually considering where our district initiative work was on the statements defined in the assessment. For example, in conviction, where did each of us think our district stood on the statement, “Innovation work is among our system’s top three priorities, which means we all devote significant time, resources, and attention to it”?  And, further, what rationale did each of us have for the ratings we gave?

Transcend translated these assessments into an easy-to-use dashboard and a simple debrief protocol that enabled us to have rich and sometimes contentious conversations around leadership team alignment and misalignment.

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The 5 Conditions dashboard showing the aggregate assessments across a district.


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The dashboard also shows disaggregated data with anonymous rationales for the ratings, in this case for ‘Capacity.’

Difficult as those conversations were, even more valuable was what we learned when we offered the same self-assessment tool to our stakeholders: everyone from students and caregivers to teachers, teacher leaders, building leaders, and central office staff. We discovered that what we, the district leadership team, thought was a strength was actually an area of growth. Both our districts, Pike County and Spring ISD, found we needed to focus our Road to Reinvention around building Clarity around our respective initiatives.

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Pike County community design session

In Spring ISD we knew we had strong system-wide conviction around the need for reinvention, and the survey bore that out. However, it became clear that our various stakeholders did not have clarity about what the redesign work entailed. We decided to create focus groups to hear where our students, families, teachers, teacher leaders, building leaders, and central office staff felt we were and what their hopes for the children were. After listening, we arrived at some guiding ideas and convened site-based school design teams to translate those guiding ideas into new student learning experiences that we can implement and iterate on through improvement cycles. [Spring ISD’s Road to Reinvention]

At Pike County, our lowest conditions assessment results were with Coalition and Capacity. We initially chose Coalition as the condition we wanted to focus on improving. However, as we engaged in debrief conversations at our school sites, we learned that the coalition was fractured and the capacity was limited because, underneath all the work, there was a lack of clarity on the deeper learning strategy and goals. Like Spring ISD, we began a series of community dialogues around our Portrait of a Graduate and deeper learning. We invited our families to join design teams where they engaged in design thinking to support those in our community who didn’t have clarity on our reinvention work. These family design teams built out a resource guide, reimagined curriculum nights, and are designing the role of an achievement concierge who might support families in helping build goal-directed persistence in students. [Pike County Schools’ Road to Reinvention]

On a bi-monthly basis we brought our ‘ahas’ and ‘oh-nos’ to the Roads to Reinvention Community of Practice. AASA and Transcend created a safe, fertile space where we could listen, learn, and problem-solve. We all worked together to learn a new language around the Conditions for Innovation. If, before, we looked at an initiative and analyzed what worked and didn’t work, now we had a way of going one level deeper, into the soil. We knew there was good soil and bad soil for innovations to flourish, but now we had specific names for the ameliorants and methods that could improve the soil. By naming things together (and learning together), we could share calibrated insights and advice, both within our systems and across the different districts. This enrichment enabled our reinvention initiatives to take deeper root. 

Spring ISD:  Rodney Watson, superintendent (NFSA Superintendent of the Year, 2021); Lupita Hinojosa, chief officer of innovation and equity; Matt Pariseau, assistant superintendent for curriculum and professional development

Pike County Schools:  Michael Duncan, superintendent (Georgia Superintendent of the Year, 2021); Jennifer Allison, director of teaching and learning

Bold Change Requires Solidarity Between Schools and Community Partners

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Bold Change Requires Solidarity Between Schools and Community Partners

Parents know what they want for their children. Empowered by the demands of the pandemic, parents are owning their power to making choices about what opportunities their children engage in. Parents overwhelmingly support the American Rescue Plan Act dollars coming to schools, but they want bold change. They don’t just want more traditional school and more rote instruction. Case in point: A recently released Understanding America Study found that only 25 percent of families were enrolling their children in summer school in districts that offered it. Local reports, however, suggest that parents are responding to hybrid approaches that involve community-based programs. 

Hike2On a longer journey to become a city of learning, Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) and The Opportunity Project collaboratively launched Ready! Set! Summer! Throughout the summer nearly 12,000 young people (more than 33 percent of TPS students) have engaged in summer programs hosted in schools, community centers, museums, parks and stem facilities. Grounded in learning from partnership focused on social emotional learning as well as from the teacher walkouts in 2019 and COVID closures in 2020, these programs lead with relationships, interests, and fun while building in math, science, and other opportunities for academic acceleration – regardless of where they are offered and whether the school or community organizations are serving as the primary lead.

Tulsa is not alone. Boston and Cleveland are similarly seeing preferences for more asset-based programs that build on students’ interests and strengths while also addressing their academic, social and emotional needs. Parents’ greater willingness to engage in “reconnect and recovery” efforts when community partners take lead likely reflects pre-pandemic relationships that were reinforced over the last year when these programs adapted rather than closing, shifting to blended modalities and offering different in person options (such as pop-up camps or learning hubs). 

Those calling for the radical transformation of schools insist that change starts with the adoption of a more balanced approach to learning that is consistent with recent science findings about how learning happens. This balanced approach is widely used in these flexible learning settings. But valuable lessons and examples are frequently discounted (even when funded via school districts) because these organizations are different from schools. They do not lead with academics, rely on certified teachers, use tests and grades, or require attendance. Hence, these settings are seen as nice but not necessary.

“Learning happens everywhere” is a great slogan. But the lion’s share of public and philanthropic education funding flows into and through school systems with precious little coming out the other side to strengthen this more flexible learning and development system. Without concerted efforts to translate platitudes into real ecosystem planning, it remains likely that little of the unprecedented amounts of funding now flowing to schools will be invested in coordination and capacity-building infrastructures that can accelerate progress towards equitable, community-based, learner-centered ecosystems. Expanded access to summer and afterschool programs will likely happen but may not last.

Based on what we have collectively experienced and heard from other communities across the country, we have one suggestion for school and school district leaders that might seem relatively simplistic but will take a great deal of effort to pull off. To effectively build partnerships, leaders must acknowledge and begin to eliminate the power differential between schools and community programs.

Two quotes, shared by leaders in Tulsa during Episode 3 of the Wallace PSELI Podcast, illustrate the negative impact this power dynamic can create:

I didn't realize there's actually been a lot of harm, non-intentional harm, working with our outside partners, where we've just made decisions and excluded them and not even considered them in many of our decision-making processes.
One of the things we did really have to work on is… treating our youth care workers as professionals. I didn't realize that there was this thing around a certified classroom teacher versus a professional youth care worker. It's been a big learning experience for me in this project, but I think it's well worth it in recognizing that both sets of individuals have such great things to bring to students and families that we need to learn from both of them.

As we think about how we more effectively build partnerships between schools and community programs, we find ourselves reflecting on the impact the concept of allyship has had in diversity, equity and inclusion work. 

Allyship is an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which an individual of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people.

Drums

Allyship for BIPOC, Latinx, LGBTQ+ students requires school and district leaders to maintain active awareness of the actions they must take to understand and disrupt inequities (racial, gender identity, sexual orientation). One step is to recognize the extent to which families rely on community organizations to complement and sometimes compensate for lessons learned or not learned in school. School systems need to recognize their interdependence with other youth serving organizations as we map out the full range of supports and opportunities the young people in our communities need and deserve. The benefits will not only be for young people, but the very systems engaged in collaboration through infusion of ideas, services, and supports become part of the collective approach to learning and development.

The call for strong, sustainable partnerships between schools and their communities is linked to a broader push for a shift from siloed systems thinking (even with commitments to better coordination) to ecosystems thinking (in which each system acknowledges its interdependence with the other as well as the independent value other systems contribute to young people’s success). To implement transformational change together we need to:

  • Talk about young people not just as students, but more broadly as learners. 
  • Respect and resource all of the professionals and paraprofessionals in the learning ecosystem (including those in the school building who staff the libraries, hallways, cafeterias, buses, counseling and nurses’ offices, wrap around supports and extracurricular and sports activities). Think of community partners as part of a more flexible delivery system that likely has been, and can be, critical partners during the school day as well as in the afterschool and summer hours. 
  • Acknowledge that every system has formal (curriculum-based instruction), flexible (interest/talent driven learning) and free choice (independent exploration, recess) settings where adults and young people–when empowered–can make learning happen. 
  • Create a shared commitment to acknowledge that all learning is social and emotional. It is the intentionality of experiences we co-create with learners that matter.

This past year has underscored the fact that trying to do this alone discounts the more fragile, but no less important relationships, networks, and coordinating infrastructures in place in the broader community. A year and a half of schools and families leaning on community-based organizations has made it clear that schools cannot create equitable learning opportunities alone. 

This is the time for all of us to be bold. Disruption created opportunity. Let’s fully leverage these opportunities to build forward together

Authors:

Shannon
Paula Shannon
deputy superintendent
Tulsa Public Schools

Shaw
Caroline Shaw
executive director
The Opportunity Project

Pittman
Karen Pittman
co-founder and senior fellow
The Forum for Youth Investment

Intern View: Legislative Advocacy Conference

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Intern View: Legislative Advocacy Conference

capitolThis past week I had the opportunity to join AASA in person for its Legislative Advocacy conference. I’ve come to understand that the superintendency can be a solitary position. Conferences are a great opportunity to gather around a community that's driven toward the same goal, sharing the challenges of districts and learning from the successes of others.     

The content of the sessions at the conference itself were specific and intentional, as opposed to general statements and a pat on the back. The sessions, specifically the update from AASA’s advocacy team, dove into the nitty gritty of what superintendents need to know when they face Capitol Hill. The new advocacy app, which debuted at the conference, is sure to be a great resource to continue work on AASA’s 2021 Legislative Agenda.

It was also great to hear from the deputy secretary of education. In the past year, the politicization of education has increased even more. It was reassuring to hear that Cindy Marten is focused on the student. As a former teacher, she is determined to keep these things in sight.

  Adv ConfOn Tuesday, I was able to speak with president-elect Shari Camhi, superintendent in Baldwin, N.Y. She was passionate about the need to reinvent education. She emphasized that education has to be built around the students, not the adults. She also commented on the necessity to move the idea of what lessons we’ve learned from COVID (what to keep, what to lose) past simple rhetoric and into actions. PBS did a special on her district and we discussed her district's robust website. It seems AASA’s future is in good hands. 

I used to be interested in advocacy, social justice and public education. I believe public education is the key to success. It's a way out of poverty, it was my parents’ key to class mobility and it is vital to our democracy. Everyone has a part they can play in pushing schools forward, not just educators. From this conference, I've learned that I can take the skills I have in digital media and communications and apply them to worthy causes. Every organization needs a variety of parts and skillsets to work as one body moving forward. In my last blog post I noted how everyone works together, taking on various roles, because they believe in the work. Throughout the Legislative Advocacy Conference, I saw that attitude growing within me as well.  

When I speak to people about working in education, they immediately jump to conclusions about classrooms being too political, about the pawn education has become in political games and a weapon of whatever rhetoric they feel most threatened by. This is not what I saw. These sessions revolved around crumbling school buildings, child nutrition, safe and speedy returns from COVID, plans for natural disasters, equitable internet access for students, etc. These are not dubious figures scheming on the best way to indoctrinate children. They are vulnerable servants with hearts that are burdened with care for the wellbeing and success of America's children.  

PaulIn his installation Paul Imhoff, superintendent of Upper Arlington (Ohio) School District, spoke on the importance of love. I saw that love across the conference. Love for each other, as members caught up on their families and hugged one another. Love for their districts as they compared and contrasted what works for what district and grilled panelists on behalf of their students. Above all, there was love for students and public education. 

Watch the videos here:

 2021 Legislative Advocacy Conference - Kristi Wilson
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MchADwI7jWA

2021 Legislative Advocacy Conference - AASA President Paul Imhoff
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56eMXvXsRig

2021 Legislative Advocacy Conference - AASA President-elect Shari Camhi
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaCwK47ho40

2021 Legislative Advocacy Conference - Shane Hotchkiss
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y60S1wOHt9g

Intern View: AASA's Advocacy Mindset

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Intern View: AASA's Advocacy Mindset

Intern View: AASA's Advocacy Mindset

Over the course of my internship, I have alternated between working exclusively with School Administrator and digital content. Recently I had the opportunity to become more acquainted with the bigger picture of AASA, as I was able to have one-on-one conversations with several AASA staff members and attend a full staff meeting. 


There were a few traits that stuck out in all of those conversations. First off, in describing their work, it became apparent that each individual was not only capable but willing to fulfill a variety of different roles, like James Minichello, whose duties include responsibilities like writing press releases, but also took it upon himself to sharpen his photography skills in order to increase coverage. 


Secondly, many members of the staff do not have a background in education. This came as a shock to me. Not only did it subvert my expectation, but with the wealth of knowledge everyone exhibits it’s hard to believe.


 Third, advocacy is the blood that pumps through every action. It’s one thing to witness the focus on advocacy when writing social media posts, editing the website, or evaluating manuscripts for School Administrator. Those things are the face we show others. It’s the appearance we choose to present. 


It’s another thing to see that mindset driving the conversation in staff meetings or even the day-to-day duties of each individual. This intentionality is not just the appearance of AASA but it is clearly the substance as well.


In the past weeks I was also given the task to look through archived School Administrator articles to add to the publications portion of our equity resources. This task once again showed me the depth of AASA’s commitment. While the past year has forced many organizations to participate in difficult conversations on equity for the first time, it is clear that AASA has been engaged in searching for equitable solutions and gameplans for years, and they are only continuing to move forward.


These experiences have made me consider my future in a different light. From a distance the harmony of this team is obvious, but at a closer look the muscle holding this organism together is a genuine care for the members of AASA and a hope for the future of public education. In my future career I hope to be a part of an organization I truly believe in. Knowing what the job counts for makes the work even more worthwhile and the direction of every task crystal clear. 


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Intern View: First Impressions at AASA

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Intern View: First Impressions at AASA

Intern View: First Impressions at AASA

I chose to intern with AASA, The School Superintendents Association because I wanted an opportunity to gain hands-on experience with a possible career path. I was hoping for a chance to develop real skills this summer instead of sleeping the days away. My parents have both been in education for more than 25 years. The weight of administration and even classroom teaching is clearly a heavy load, but a load very much worth carrying. My life has been filled with people whose professional lives revolved around public school on many levels of the education spectrum. While I have heard much about their challenges, the roles of the superintendency have always been blurred to me.

I definitely underestimated the position prior to this internship. Superintendents work with everything from assessment to building management with little acknowledgement or respect. They walk a fine line of responding to the needs of their student bodies without ruffling political feathers. From reading the 2020 Decennial Study, I was surprised to see that approximately 33% of superintendents identified as Republican, 32% as independent and 31% as Democrat. This is a much more varied response than I expected. The 2020 Decennial Study showed me that as the diversity of school districts themselves increases, so does the diversity of those who hold the position of superintendency. Since 2010, there has been an increase in female superintendents, people of color and even a change in the age of superintendents as more individuals are becoming superintendents at a younger age. Respondents who were superintendents by the time they were 45 made up a new majority of 59% in 2020,compared to the 49.5% of participants in the 2010 survey who were superintendent by that age.

Something that strikes me about AASA is its sober awareness of the diversity that lies within the superintendency. An effort is always wholeheartedly made to avoid endorsing any theory or making any choices that would alienate their dedicated members. There is a goal of being helpful to all who hold the role. AASA is constantly pulling from a history of findings and data to make informed choices that offer actionable solutions to modern problems. AASA values every voice and attacks every issue from multiple points of view. 

This is something I've enjoyed about the publication, School Administrator, and participating in interactive resources like webinars. AASA truly creates a community for superintendents to bring their diverse array of experiences from their unique districts together, where they can work to encourage one another toward better school practices that serve their constituents' needs. The superintendency is a lonely job, but AASA provides a necessary community of support and resources.

Apart from an abundance of information and a newfound sympathy for superintendents, I have grown in respect for the amount of detail that goes into the social media aspect of AASA. It’s been fascinating to see how content is altered to cater to the audience of each social media platform and even email so every member can stay up to date with the organization that serves them.

I have also already learned a tremendous amount of transferable skills. I'm learning how to work with content management systems, send out vital information to members and I’m starting to become familiar with what my future career may look like. So far I’ve gotten to contribute in so many ways, each way requiring me to practice a new skill. I’m already becoming much more comfortable doing work in the digital world. 

AASA has been a warm and welcoming community, and I can't wait to keep learning from everyone. 

Thank you for having me.

 bp0615

2021 summer intern with AASA and a sophomore at Flagler College in St, Augustine, Fla.

 

Leading Social and Emotional Learning — How District Leaders Use SEL Data

(Social and Emotional Learning) Permanent link

Leading Social and Emotional Learning — How District Leaders Use SEL Data

SEL Cohort Webinar Brief: September 25, 2019

sel partners logosIn this special webinar for the AASA Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Cohort, Panorama Education shares strategies being used by exemplary districts and schools throughout the country to collect, analyze, and use SEL-related data to improve student achievement, behavior, and attendance. The webinar is a powerful introduction to many of the themes and focus areas cohort members will explore in the October 13-14, 2019, SEL Cohort conference in Alexandria, VA. Facilitated by Ben Mark (Panorama Outreach Director) and Elizabeth Breese (Panorama Marketing Director), this webinar provides clear and very practical ways in which district leaders are using SEL data to: (1) improve academic outcomes, (2) promote student attendance, (3) evaluate the effectiveness of SEL and wellness programs, and (4) implement a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) to ensure student success in the required core curriculum and provide appropriate short-term and long-term supports and interventions related to student academic performance, engagement, efficacy, and self-regulation.

Webinar Highlights 

  • Panorama Education serves 900+ districts, impacting 9 million students. Its mission is to help educators use data to improve student outcomes by focusing on school climate and family engagement, social-emotional learning, and student success (including MTSS and early warning systems).
  • Schools and districts successfully making SEL a leadership priority integrate the monitoring of student progress related to key SEL performance indicators into district strategic plans, Profiles of a Graduate, school improvement plans, and community and family partnerships.
  • The webinar facilitators focused on results from the Panorama Social-Emotional Learning Survey, co-developed with the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the University of California Santa Barbara, and Johns Hopkins University.
  • Part of the total Panorama data management system, the survey can be custom-tailored to district frameworks, producing actionable SEL data related to student skills and competencies (e.g., self-management and growth mindset); student supports and environment (e.g., sense of belonging, teacher-student relationships, safety); and teacher skills and supports (e.g., professional learning and resources).

Key Conclusions

  • Schools that build strong student SEL skills tend to create safe classrooms and sites where students can focus on learning, achieve academic growth, and improve their capacity for collaboration and career/life outcomes;
  • Key focus areas include self-efficacy (do students believe they can succeed in achieving academic outcomes?) and engagement (are students attentive and invested in school?);
  • A successful data-driven SEL intervention system serves as an “early-warning” process to signal students who may need extra support with skills gaps and struggles that can result in issues related to attendance, behavior, and course performance; (4) Engagement is an especially significant SEL factor (with facilitators citing the statistic that 62% of students reporting high levels of engagement are less likely to fail courses); (5) Facilitators cited two districts with high levels of student poverty and mobility that have successfully used SEL data to improve student achievement, attendance, and behavior: (a) Olathe Public Schools (KS), which has demonstrated remarkable success in enhancing student “grit,” i.e., the ability to persevere in the face of setbacks; and (b) Ogden Public Schools (UT), which has improved student performance via relationship building, student goal setting, and preventative problem solving.

Webinar Archive and Follow Up Items

SEL Cohort

The AASA Social and Emotional Learning Cohort is a vibrant community of superintendents and district administrators engaged in meaningful dialogue about how SEL is contributing to the whole child—from physical and mental health to the development of fundamental, lifelong learning skills. To join the cohort, apply at https://www.aasa.org/application-SEL.aspx

Questions?

Contact:

Leaders Going 'Above and Beyond': A Superintendent's Perspective

(Views On Leadership, Superintendent Certification) Permanent link

Leaders Going 'Above and Beyond': A Superintendent's Perspective

by Todd Dugan, superintendent, Bunker Hill CUSD #8, Ill., and a member of the AASA National Superintendent  Certification Program® – Midwest Cohort Class of 2020

On a sweltering July weekend in Chicago, Illinois, a group of dedicated public school superintendents from across the Midwest region (and beyond) of the United States gathered for four days of intense professional development. With an Excessive Heat Warning in effect, leaders from school districts in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio and other midwestern states devoted their time and energy to learning from AASA facilitators from across the nation, as well as from each other regarding best practices in the continuously evolving and increasingly complex job of serving as public school superintendents.

todd dugan blog 3 todd dugan blog 1

The AASA National Superintendent Certification Program® is a 2-year cohort geared toward superintendents within their first 7 years in the field offering a unique and intensive period of professional growth in a cohort setting. As this cohort met again in the heat of Illinois summer, several important topics were covered over the long weekend. From fundamental topics such as nurturing positive board relations to ancillary (yet equally critical) topics including engagement of families and communities, participants continued their journey of shared learning that began in February in Los Angeles. 

In addition to the hours spent learning while most people enjoyed their summer weekends either on vacation or in the company of their families (one superintendent actually flew directly from Florida, departing his family vacation early, to Chicago to attend the summer meeting), these dedicated cohort participants also read articles and viewed artifacts, via an online digital learning platform, as well as monthly progress calls via Zoom or Skype, typically in the evening. All of these activities are leading up to a culminating capstone project, to be presented at a graduation in Chicago in the summer of 2020.

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What makes this meeting of a cohort of educational leaders newsworthy? At a time when public schools are under more scrutiny than before, as outcomes and mandates continue to accrue as financial resources decline or remain steady, it speaks magnitudes to see a group of superintendents so dedicated to the improvement of leading America's public school districts. As a profession, bringing to light this type of unsung commitment to the public's attention will only help all districts as we move forward and continue to improve public education, showing that there is no better system of education than public education. 

Follow and contribute to the conversation on Twitter via the following hashtags: #LeadersMatter #lovepubliceducation

AASA, Howard University Celebrate 5 Years of the Urban Superintendents Academy

(Urban Superintendents) Permanent link

AASA, Howard University Celebrate 5 Years of the Urban Superintendents Academy

by Jimmy Minichello, communications and marketing director, AASA

It started in 2015 with an early morning meeting between representatives of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and the Howard University School of Education. The topic focused on bolstering school district leadership in urban areas.

Today, both organizations are celebrating five years of the AASA / Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy, a program designed to offer superintendents and aspiring superintendents a revolutionary new approach to ensure success in urban settings.

inaugural urban cohort blog1
School leaders at the AASA-Howard University Inaugural Conference


The program was officially launched at AASA’s National Conference on Education in San Diego, Feb. 26, 2015. "This unique partnership between AASA and Howard University provides an exceptional opportunity for those who wish to become leaders in urban school systems," Daniel A. Domenech, executive director, AASA, said at the time of the announcement. "Combining on-site learning experiences, mentors, strong curriculum, affinity groups, an annual conference and ongoing support, the Urban Superintendents Academy is a leader in preparing superintendents."

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Leslie Fenwick, former dean of the Howard University School of Education, speaking at Urban Superintendents Academy Event

"Through its relevant and rigorous program, the Urban Superintendents Academy prepares a new generation of school superintendents who are committed to all school children actualizing their potential," said Leslie T. Fenwick, the dean of the Howard University School of Education at that time.

At a time when less than 5% of our nation's superintendents are persons of color, the Urban Superintendents Academy prepares educators for certification and success in urban and increasingly diverse suburban settings, and bolsters the effectiveness of district leadership in those settings. The AASA/Howard University partnership is also designed to expand the pool of underrepresented superintendent groups.

In August, members of the 2020 Urban Superintendents Academy cohort gathered in Alexandria, Va., for the annual Urban Superintendents Academy conference and again in September for the first educational workshop.

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Rodney Robinson, the 2019 National Teacher of the Year, addressing 2019 Urban Superintendents Academy Summit

The August kick-off was on a day filled with an all-star cast of speakers, including Virginia social studies teacher Rodney Robinson, the 2019 National Teacher of the Year. A 19-year teaching veteran, Robinson became a teacher to honor his mother.

His remarks centered on "remembering your why" when it comes to what you do, focusing on the lens of equity. He said his first major influence was his mother, who "made you feel like you were the most important person."

His second influence were two teachers who essentially taught him to pay it forward. I want to give young boys and girls opportunities that were given to me in my life, he told the audience.

His third influence was one of his students, a football star who died tragically a short time ago. Robinson's why focuses on a "matter of life and death."

Vince Matthews, superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District, served as the opening  keynote speaker.

Matthews focused his discussion on telling your leadership story. "You have to make sure you're able to tell three stories," he said. "Your leadership story, the story of the organization and the story of how the people you'e leading are fitting in."

Others commented on the significance of the Now moment in education:

"You bring joy and light to the children of America," said Mort Sherman, associate executive director, Leadership Network and academy co-founder at the gathering. "We want you to succeed. Through your success, the children of America will succeed."

urban group photo 2019 blog
AASA-Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy Cohort 2020 participants.


"This is all about preparing you for the next dimension of leadership," added Joe Hairston, academy co-founder, Howard University School of Education. "When you make a commitment to this responsibility, you can't turn your back on people who are depending on you for sound judgment and more importantly, the vision of where you're going."

"We have come so far," said Dawn Williams, dean, Howard University School of Education. "You are here to be a part of that work. The Urban Superintendents Academy will equip you with the data, narrative, skills and a disposition to be a leader and a change agent. But you have to bring forth the courage to utilize those tolls in ways that promote social justice."

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Urban Superintendents Academy participants hear from Curtis Jones, 2019 National Superintendent of the Year®, at their first meeting.

Cohort members held their first monthly meeting on Saturday, September 14-15 at AASA headquarters in Alexandria. "When I researched the academy, I felt it would give me the tools—a toolbox of resources, professional colleagues, a network of individuals who can really assist," said Alvin Pressley, director of secondary education at Lexington-Richland School District Five, Columbia, S.C.

Specific goals applicable to the Urban Superintendents Academy include:

  • Prepare for and successfully acquire a position as an urban superintendent.
  • Delineate and apply key skills of 21st century leadership.
  • Address critical problems and issues facing all urban superintendents today in a strategic and creative way.
  • Deal effectively and creatively with community relations and politics in the urban setting.

For more information about the AASA/Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy, visit the AASA website. For questions, contact Bernadine Futrell, AASA director, leadership network, at bfutrell@aasa.org / 703-875-0717.

Click here to view the photo gallery of the 2019 AASA/Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy Conference. To join the conversation via social media, access #UrbanSuptsAcademy.

Personalized Learning Continues to Grow at Pennsylvania’s North Penn Schools

(Lead To Learn, Personalized Learning) Permanent link

Personalized Learning Continues to Grow at Pennsylvania’s North Penn Schools

July 18, 2019, by Richard Mextorf

The AASA Personalized Learning Cohort, comprised of school leaders from across the country, gathered earlier this year at North Penn School District, located in Montgomery County, Pa., to learn about the district’s approach to personalized learning.

Cohort members experienced a variety of events and activities during our visit. We saw firsthand how learners (students) own their learning and demonstrate their understanding through multiple pathways. At the secondary school level, learners demonstrated performance-based assessment through video production, which was written, directed, produced and performed by the learners. Literature students created multi-genre projects to create compelling narratives. Additionally, learners created engaging animations to demonstrate mastery. 

Personalized Learning Richard Mextorf

Elementary learners used Flipgrid to understand the significance of each Apollo mission and demonstrated their understanding by writing thank you notes to the Apollo team members for their unique contributions to each mission. Learners became authors, writing books that are stored in the school library to be checked out by anyone in the school community. 

Cohort members saw examples of active learning spaces and the impact they have on engagement, and how they support a personalized approach in the classroom. 

Teachers from area school districts served on panels to share with cohort members how embracing personalized learning has transformed their classrooms. Middle level learners also served on a panel to share their experiences with personalized learning and their perspectives on how it has impacted them as learners. Guided by the cohort leadership, members worked in groups designed to challenge our thinking and question our assumptions.  Additionally, representatives from The Franklin Institute facilitated several activities to help cohort members better understand how the brain functions and the impact of instructional design on the brain.

The breadth of knowledge and experience from leaders across the country, combined with the intimate examples within the context of a single district, made this experience broad and deep in vision, and rich in context.

Richard Mextorf is the superintendent of the Hamburg Area School District in Hamburg, Pa. He is also a member of the AASA Personalized Learning Cohort.

Guest Post: Changing College Choices with Personalized Information at Scale

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Guest Post: Changing College Choices with Personalized Information at Scale

By Christine Mulhern, Harvard University

Choosing whether and where to apply to college is a complex and important choice which many students and families struggle to navigate. Naviance is an important tool for helping students, families and school counselors with these choices. Over 40 percent of US high school students use Naviance, but little research examines how it impacts their college choices. Given its widespread use and the importance of students’ college choices, I partnered with one medium-sized school district to study how it affects where students apply to and attend college.

This study examines how the personalized information conveyed in Naviance’s scattergrams impacts students’ college choices. Providing students access to a college’s scattergram increases applications and attendance at that college, and students are most likely to apply to a college when the admissions data suggest they are likely to be admitted.

The full paper can be found here: https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/mulhern/files/naviance_mulhern_april2019.pdf.

The key findings include:

  • Access to a college’s scattergram increases applications and attendance at that college, especially for students with a high probability of admission. This means that students are nudged towards the colleges popular among previous students from their high school.
  • Minority and low-income students are most responsive to the availability of a college’s scattergram. Access to scattergrams for less selective in-state public colleges increases four-year college enrollment rates for these students. 
  • Students change their applications based on what Naviance signals about their probability of admission. Students prefer to apply to colleges where they are most similar to previous admits.
  • Students respond strongly to the average admitted student’s GPA. I find a discontinuity in application rates for students just above and below the average admit’s GPA despite no discontinuity in a student’s probability of admission at this point. Students appear to use these averages as heuristics to simplify their college choices.

These findings indicate that the admissions information conveyed in Naviance can have large impacts on where students apply to and attend college. The information increases college attendance for some students, but the admissions data deters others from applying to highly selective colleges. The extent to which students respond to scattergrams varies across counselors, so counselors can play an important role in helping students understand the information in Naviance. More broadly, this research suggests that technologies, such as Naviance, can have large impacts on students’ college choices, and the popularity of Naviance means it has potential to influence national college enrollment patterns.

Learn more about the research paper in the article written by EdSurge, "Naviance Wields Much ‘Power and Influence’ in College Admissions, Harvard Researcher Finds."