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

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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.

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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."

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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.

Take Charge of Your Brand!

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UrbanBlogHeaderBy Niquelle Cotton 

There stands before our class a veteran super hero for education, Dr. Barbara Pullium! She’s an icon with accolades from organizations including but not limited to AASA, NABSE, ASCD and NSBA, and is known by many as a servant leader for public education. Dr. Pullium without fail brings our Cohort 4 of purpose-driven believers immediately to their feet, on-time, and at-the-ready to stand at attention! Dr. Pulliam is a teacher and “coach at heart” who has over four decades of K‐12 education experience. She served as superintendent of schools for seventeen years in three school districts which were in urban, suburban and rural school districts. She’s a “lifer” contributing heart-lifting contribution to the book of impact plays.

…music plays… Let’s Get it Started in Here! By the Black-Eyed Peas

Put that seatbelt back on! Round 2 of the AASA Urban Superintendent’s Academy ~ Cohort 4 is about to take things to a different level!
There were several topics shared across countertop when asked for expanding school, city, county, state, regional and country… SHIFTS that are driving today’s priorities and that demand taking charge of one's brand through a counternarrative: 

• Lack of funding for schools
• Diverse views on education
• Competition: Private/Charter/Homeschooling
• Comparison of what’s being taught in schools vs. parents’ perception
• Changes in the political agenda
• Changes in leadership / vision

What is a Counternarrative?
Before we delve into changing it… Let’s do some level setting. The formal definition for “counternarrative” is defined as follows: an argument that disputes a commonly held belief or truth. These beliefs often relate to cultures, people and even institutions.
Often, counternarratives, which can also be called counter-storytelling, will be used to give people a voice who otherwise would not have one. As a narrative outlines a widely accepted belief as the truth, a counternarrative can be used to share a different point of view that may have not otherwise been considered.
These types of narratives do not necessarily discredit the beliefs that have been established, but instead offer a different way of thinking about particular topics. Authors of counternarratives will include other elements to support their position, such as videos and images. https://www.reference.com/art-literature/counternarrative-bac2eed0be17f281

Tag… We’re IT!!

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Tag… We’re IT!!

By UrbanBlogHeaderNiquelle L. Cotton

It’s a rainy start to our AASA Urban Superintendent’s Academy for Cohort 4… Day One Do-over! We soon learn that our class is the first in 4-year cohort history to postpone class… Why? A hurricane threat, thankfully with minimal damage, thwarted a timely Session-1 kickoff… a sign that our class would be like no other! I look around the room hearing each person’s purpose statement when asked… Why are you here?! I realize history is about to take place. This cohort is packed with the most talented, diverse people that will become our future advocates, thought-leaders, and torch-blazers using intellect, data, and passion for underserved student populations. We will be adding to this current history chapter.

Reality sets in and momentum continues to rise when Dr. Sam King (Steering Committee Member at the national level for the AASA Urban Superintendents Academy in partnership with Howard University), begins with a moment of silence honoring the recent hate-crime in Pittsburgh, PA. Pittsburgh Schools’ very own Assistant Superintendent is cohort 4 member, Mr. Anthony Anderson, who provides somber highlights and then the tone changes… There’s an eerie hush when the class realizes the country as we know it has made yet another shift. Our patriarchs and matriarchs… our legacy makers, are preparing an infusion of knowledge impact. Dr. Bernadine Futrell, Director of Leadership Services, for AASA lets us know… we will make lifelong friends and colleagues relying on each other for support, and further conveys… this is a safe space for preparation. If not now… when?? Tag… We’re IT!!

Key themes surface once our AASA Urban Superintendent’s Academy “godfather and co-patriarch” Dr. Joe Hairston, former Superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, is honored. He shares with conviction the sense of urgency. Academy Co-founder and passionate leader, Dr. Mort Sherman, AASA Associate Executive Director, Leadership Services, would echo sentiments and mandate we must continue to be “just in time” connectors and bridge proven concepts with reality. We clearly begin to see the delicate dance between data (history) and purpose.

The day continues… We are further reminded by Dr. Morcease J. Beasley, Superintendent of Clayton County, GA & AASA –Howard Urban Superintendents Academy Cohort 3 Alumni that these shifts taking place will test the guiding principles of educators, and most assuredly those in urban district settings.

• Regardless of position, how will we make decisions that impact all children?
• How will we make sure our 3rd graders are prepared for higher levels of rigor and ensure our Gifted and Talented students are constantly being challenged?
• And how will we (for those educators steeped in the weeds…) ensure we have the board behind us?

Great educators reinforce a growth mindset in students and staff

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UrbanBlogHeader John Brown, Researcher in Residence, AASA

On a bright Sunday morning and the second day of the workshop, the 36 participants in the latest AASA Urban Superintendents Academy assembled for a moving presentation by award-winning superintendent, Dr. Deborah Wortham—currently the turn-around leader of East Ramapo Central School District, New York. Like yesterday’s sessions, Dr. Wortham reinforced the power of service-oriented and mission-driven educational leadership. She formed an instant rapport with the group—and used a range of presentation strategies and media to engage them and provoke both deep reflection and a sense of possibility for the future.

I had seen Dr. Wortham in action previously in her role as a transformational superintendent in Pennsylvania. She continues to amaze me with her charisma, dedication, and commitment to the future of the students she serves as the leader of her district. Her presentation, “Critical Issues in Education Facing the Modern Superintendent,” reinforced a powerful recurrent idea underlying the academy: The superintendent today—especially in urban settings—is participating in what Joseph Campbell called a “hero’s journey.” Every urban superintendent, Dr. Wortham reinforced, is responsible for the lives, well-being, and prosperity of the learners served by his or her district. In spite of what can appear to be sometimes overwhelming challenges, the heroic superintendent leads staff, parents, community members, and—most importantly—students toward a process of transformation, leading them to a better future and society to a greater level of both civility and achievement.

I was deeply moved by Dr. Wortham’s personal reflections, honesty, and support for the participants, encouraging them to consider such questions as: (1) Who have you blessed along the way of your own journey? (2) What is the “20%” difference you will make in your school or district? (reinforcing the range of variation that is possible within school and district structures) and (3) How many “firsts” can you put your shingle on? As a renowned and award-winning educational leader, Dr. Wortham also reinforced the difference between a transformational leader (“I am called to bring it up—Someone else is called to take it forward…”) and one who can sustain the momentum triggered by transformational change.

A few highlights of Dr. Wortham’s presentation that have stayed with me: (1) Great educators reinforce a growth mindset in students and staff. (2) The mission statement of a learning organization must be a living, breathing, and organic document—that is revisited continually as we reflect on our purpose, our goals, and the ways in which were are monitoring our progress toward achieving them. (3) Great professional development can only occur after students have been brought into understanding and “owning” the mission and vision of their school and district; once the superintendent engages their commitment and sense of efficacy, professional development priorities and performance targets can follow. (4) Learning walks can be a useful tool for providing supportive feedback to staff about how PD targets and strategies are being implemented—including areas for enhancement and growth. (5) Perhaps most significantly, Dr. Wortham presented a 5/20/80 rule: Educational leaders should be in at least five classrooms per day, 20 per week, and 80 per month. Interactions with staff and students at the school level are critically important for transformation to occur and be sustained.

I’ll close with two quotes from Dr. Wortham that I found especially moving: (1) “Love, relationships, caring, and concerns are essential in any effective school.” (2) “It is the non-cognitive elements of schooling that must be addressed first—and continuously…Students’ social-emotional learning is a priority before the cognitive-academic can truly be transformed…” Dr. Wortham embodied in her presentation—and continues to demonstrate in her career—her assertion that the “work of educators is deeply meaningful—We must believe in ourselves and our students—and our shared capacity to succeed.”

The Future Is Now: Participants Assemble for the Latest AASA Urban Superintendent Academy

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UrbanBlogHeaderJohn Brown, Researcher in Residence, AASA

I feel as if I saw the future today. Future superintendents who will be soon be leading urban districts throughout the United States met for the latest AASA Urban Superintendents Academy. One of the largest cohorts ever, the group included CAOs, human resource officers, assistant superintendents, and equity officers. These dedicated and inspiring educational leaders all shared their aspirations for preparing our increasingly diverse student populations for the future—as citizens, as life-long learners, and as successful professionals in our Information Age economy. In addition to the values and deep commitment demonstrated by each of the participants, what was most striking to me were the connections being made between senior leaders serving as mentors and presenters and the future superintendents they are deeply committed to preparing for success. It was a legacy day—a clear passing of a very important torch symbolizing the power of service-oriented leadership, networking, critical friends, and building and sustaining true professional learning communities.

“Our students can’t wait,” one powerful speaker asserted. He challenged participants, asking them to “continue to impact others—and ‘be the change I want to be in the world.’” Another guest presenter encouraged participants to “identify and outline an improvement framework to address achievement gaps.” He encouraged academy members to consider the purpose of schools in the 21st century, explore the powerful shifts in our country that speak to the urgency of education today, and what they will do to ensure that their students are not members of what has been called by sociologist Yuval Harari “the useless class.”

All of the speakers reinforced the powerful impact of demographic changes, including the growing presence and influence of Black and Latino students, parents, and community members. As several speakers confirmed, our economic and social survival—and prosperity—truly do require that all students succeed; this is not mere rhetoric—It is clearly a moral imperative. The future presented by today’s speakers also requires educators to address the social-emotional needs of our students, our parents, and our staff. Increasingly, mental health is not an issue limited to a few but a priority for many. It became evident to all of us that traditional approaches to teaching and learning are no longer viable; all of our students must be equipped with the skills of critical thinking, creative expression, communication, and collaboration.

The presentations—and the powerful discussions and debates that extended from them—reinforced the importance that superintendents today—as well as all educational leaders—understand that we are in the midst of a “diversity explosion.” “We must build partnerships to help our students navigate life” became a powerful and recurrent theme throughout the morning’s sessions. Finally, the future requires that we reframe our previous thinking and antiquated notions about what works in schools. A commitment to “vertical equity” for all students requires us to assume a social justice perspective to ensure equality of outcomes. It was especially clear that successful urban leaders today are using a range of data to monitor what one speaker called “equity variables (including viable teacher salaries, reasonable class sizes, and highly qualified teachers),” ensuring that an even playing field is accessible to everyone.

Participants will demonstrate their growing experience, leadership skills, and creative insights through collaborative “Capstone Projects” and white papers, sharing solutions to actual problems of practice in their current districts and learning organizations. Based on today’s beginning session, the future looks bright from the vantage point of our future superintendents—and how AASA leaders and mentors are collaborating to support the next generation of district leaders.

Conference Kick Off! Urban School Superintendents Conference, Keynote Address

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Watch the 2018 Urban School Superintendents Conference

AASA, the School Superintendents Association and Howard University hosted a panel discussion on challenges faced by urban school superintendents. It was part of AASA’s annual conference for the urban administrators, and they discussed topics including public school funding, ways to reach out to parents and how to best engage the community with the school. Michael Hinojosa, the superintendent of the Dallas, Texas, Independent School District, delivered the keynote address at a conference of urban school superintendents. He talked about his career and early life.


Amen's All Around

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"Amen"s All Around

  By Mollie Sherman


 It’s always a pleasure to hear passion in people’s voices as they speak on something they truly believe in- my week with the West Coast cohort indulged me time and time again as Superintendents from across the country shared their stories. There was a warmth of comradery in the air as peers turned in their seats to listen to each other formulate ideas and hypothesize initiatives to further their district’s learning. They challenged each other to become truly 21st century educators, and each superintendent rose to the occasion with resolve to bring positive and lasting change to the education our children receive in the public school system. Daniel Cox, Superintendent of the Charles City Community School District in Iowa, spoke to the spirit of this resolution during an activity centered around technology integration as he shared his view of the superintendent’s unique role to “engage, empower, and inspire” their districts.

The personal note of experience inflecting each of their shared thoughts touched on the drive to persevere. A handful of superintendents presented their “Leadership Stories” of growth, highlighting the curves in the path of their lives that brought them to this position of leadership that allows them to enact continuous, bettering transformation. Many spoke of their parents or family influencing their belief in the value of education- it was incredible to note how many of the superintendents in the room had parents that had barely completed their college education, and some even high school. Michael Muñoz, Superintendent of Rochester Public Schools in Minnesota, shared with the cohort words from his father that stay with him to this day: “Education is a key.” Muñoz, who earlier spoke on some of his experiences growing up as a person of color, expanded on his father’s words, stating that for him it became obvious that “with an education I have a key to open any door to be whatever I want to be.”

At the session’s end, a resounding ‘amen’ surrounded the re-energizing and affirming nature of these sessions that leave the cohort feeling confident and prepared to better serve their districts’ well-being. As Larry Perondi, program mentor and former Superintendent of Oceanside Unified School District in California vocalized in his closing remarks, the commitment and passion of educational leaders was evident in the room, and I was truly fortunate to have witnessed such a significant meeting of academic collaboration.