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

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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.

todd dugan blog 2

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

Student's View: Final Blog Post

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Student's View: Final Blog Post

By Tatiana Le, student intern, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Final Photo with InternI am tremendously grateful for the time I’ve spent as an intern here at AASA, The School Superintendents Association. It was my first internship ever, so maybe I’m not in the best position to say this, but I found this experience extremely valuable to my academic and budding professional career.

First off, I learned much more than I expected to learn. I think that every student—at some point or another—subscribes to the fear that early internships are nothing but pits of busywork and coffee-making. While I didn’t take those fears face-value, I did expect more grunt work than I got.

Jay Goldman, editor of School Administrator and one of my supervisors, made sure I got experience reading, writing and editing different parts of AASA’s print and online publications, as well as a few other popular education magazines. I’ve had the chance to proofread features, help select covers and visit all the different departments of AASA.

Gayane Minasyan, director of online technologies and my other supervisor, had me writing this blog, handling social media and learning the web content management system. I sat in on webinars, designed toolkits and graphics, wrote mobile app alerts, conducted interviews and more. I never wore just one hat here at AASA, which I suppose is how most everyone at AASA works. It’s a small community of people juggling an abundance of different tasks.

Second, I can’t claim that the internship did an upheaval of my previous life decisions and goals, but my exposure to so many new people in different positions made me consider my options more. I still want to teach, but I’ve realized that I have to start thinking more than just one step ahead.

There’s no guarantee I’ll want to teach forever, and even otherwise, this adventure has taught me the importance of diversifying your interests and trying new things. My time at college isn’t preparing me for a life-long career at 19, it’s teaching me the tools to eventually find one. It’s a little embarrassing to admit that I actually never considered the superintendency as a logical end point to my career path as a teacher but guess that’s what internships are for. I have to get out into the world and see what other people are doing out of college to know what’s possible for me.

I’d like to thank everyone I’ve met at AASA for giving up some of their time to share their insight and advice with me. Some big highlights were my discussions with Kayla Jackson and Rebecca Shaw, project director and coordinator of Children’s Initiatives and Program Development, and Vera Turner, project manager of Leadership Services. That’s not to mention the people who guided me through tasks like Liz Griffin, managing editor of School Administrator, Juli Doshan, senior editorial assistant, and Deanna Atkins, digital content manager. I’ve been to networking events at college before, but it feels so much more organic to have a conversation with someone who works in the same building as you. Many of the college students I know, including myself, are terrified of networking. Networking didn’t feel like a conversation until this internship. I hope that I get more and more comfortable talking to adults as my career continues.

I also hope that my successor and any other intern looking for some reflection space keeps a blog too. I’m truly glad that my supervisor put me up to it. The writing process has given me time to sit down and process why I’m really here interning for the summer rather than working a diner job to pay for textbooks or spending three weeks at the beach. I can confidently say that I made the right choice.

Student’s View: 2018 Legislative Advocacy Conference

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Student’s View: 2018 Legislative Advocacy Conference

By Tatiana Le, student intern, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Leaders MatterI have officially attended my first AASA Legislative Advocacy Conference; what an exciting introduction to the world of Capitol Hill!

As an intern at AASA, The School Superintendent’s Association, I had the opportunity to attend the first two days of this year’s Legislative Advocacy Conference. There, AASA finally launched the Leaders Matter Campaign that I had been hearing about for so long (http://aasacentral.org/leadersmatter/). The campaign is focused on showcasing superintendent leadership and its effects on schools and students. From what I garnered listening to superintendents speak, I can tell there’s a lot of leadership to show off.

On the first day of the conference, I sat in on the panel sessions. The most interesting was the session titled Higher Education Act and Teacher Shortage with Joni Booth, senior client development consultant, Gallup, Tamara Hiller, deputy director of education, Third Way, and Stephen Kostyo, policy advisor, Learning Policy Institute. I remember losing the entire Spanish department junior year at my high school, but I didn’t anticipate seeing almost every superintendent’s hand go up when asked if they were experiencing teacher shortages. As someone so excited to teach after college, it is disheartening to hear that 69 percent of teachers are not engaged in their job and 73 percent of actively disengaged teachers are looking for a new job.

The panelists noted a handful of reasons I expected to see teachers cite for leaving like pay, career advancement and fit. However, I didn’t expect to hear a reason that has already impacted me: licensure.

I live in Virginia but go to college in Pennsylvania, and so because licensure varies by state, I had to redo my fingerprints and background checks for permission to teach in classroom fieldwork. As a low-income student, I wasted precious time and money in this process.

Women in School Leadership CollageOne of the solutions the panelists suggested was a Common Application for Teacher Licensure. Knowing how popular the college Common App is, the idea is intriguing. It’s a concept I’m taking with me for further research and deliberation with my peers. The presentation slides for all the panel sessions can be found at http://aasa.org/policy-blogs.aspx?id=42723&blogid=84002

On the second day of the conference, I spent some time with Vera Turner, project manager, education and communications at AASA. She was working on taping interviews for the Women in School Leadership Video Series. I got to see women superintendents like Debbi Burdick, Cave Creek Unified School District, Gail Pletnick, Dysart Unified School District, and Traci Davis, Washoe County School District, speak about their leadership experiences.

Every woman had a very different story to tell, but similar key takeaways. Each superintendent mentioned communication and relationship building as keys to their success. Some of the women have been superintendents over 18 years and still accredit their ability to succeed to the support systems they were introduced to by their mentors and women role models. They talked about coming into the position ready to face off against the world and instead found strength in the ability to step back and ask for help.

It was amazing to hear about the journeys these women have had to the superintendency; I never realized how many people become superintendents by circumstance rather than by intention. As inspiring as the interviews were, the videos won’t be released for another couple of months, so I don’t want to prematurely spoil anything. I look forward to seeing the results, which will be available at http://www.aasa.org/content.aspx?id=39412

So as overwhelming as it was to be barraged by a ballroom full of new faces, I’m really honored I got the opportunity to attend the conference. Listening to President Chris Gaines’ address during the installment reminded me just how much time and effort every member puts into AASA, whether as a member of the governing board, executive committee or as president of the organization. According to him, if the officials on Capitol Hill think that school classrooms are just filled with students sitting at desks in rows, it is the fault of the superintendents for not educating their Representatives and inviting them into their schools. It was incredible to listen to him call everyone to action.

This conference was my first glimpse into the types of events organizations like AASA hold. It also opened my eyes to the level of awareness and sense of responsibility educators take on when representing their districts to their government officials.



Student's View: Top Five Reasons to Join AASA, The School Superintendents Association

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Student's View: Top Five Reasons to Join AASA, The School Superintendents Association

By Tatiana Le, student intern, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

 Membership Brochure

 In my quest to unravel the mysteries of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, I found an opportunity to interview C.J. Reid, associate executive director, governance, membership & affiliate services.

What I learned about AASA membership from C.J. wasn’t what I expected. There aren’t five amazing reasons I can list that will convince any school administrator to join AASA, there are over 20,000 reasons: one slightly different, personal reason for each individual member. C.J. summarized the situation succinctly, “There is no one silver bullet to membership.”  

As such, I’m going to attempt to come up with my five bronze bullets to consider when debating whether to become an AASA member. 

1. Legal support program

Insurance, as C.J. put it, “is important, but not sexy.” Insurance is one of those things that most people hope never to use, but they sleep better at night knowing it’s there anyway.

I know as well as the next person how necessary that security can be. Life likes to hit us all with a little rain now and then. Through the legal support program, AASA is providing its members up to $20,000 in legal support now, up from $10,000 last year.  

2. Advocacy

As a national association, AASA can advocate for school leaders in ways that state associations logistically can’t. From preserving Medicaid spending in schools to ensuring that low-income students are able to eat breakfast, AASA does its best to represent the interests of school leaders trying to help their students on Capitol Hill and in the White House. That means constantly listening to members online, in person or through the governing board and executive committee. AASA represents its members to the government, not the other way around.

3. Networking

There is only one superintendent in a school district; sometimes, superintendents are spread over multiple districts. AASA’s national network of superintendents gives school leaders the ability to connect and collaborate with people facing similar problems across the country. The support of a community can have astronomical effects on district confidence and success. C.J. is convinced that AASA’s National Conference on Education could be “a room full of chairs and the superintendents would all be content to talk to each other for three hours.”

4. Professional development

AASA hosts an ever-growing collection of programs, cohorts, consortia and academies to help school administrators lead and support their respective schools. Twenty percent of AASA members retire every year, which means that school administrators need to be prepared for a variety of environments, challenges and positions. Whether that means taking advantage of the Urban Superintendent’s Academy or The Rural School and Community Trust, AASA does its best to provide opportunities for its members to grow. 

5. School Administrator (and other resources)

School Administrator, AASA’s award-winning monthly magazine full of insight from school administrators and other professionals in the field, is physically sent to every member every month.

Additionally, members receive two electronic newsletters, all AASA toolkits, access to the resource library and discounts for all AASA books. AASA ensures that all members stay as updated and prepared as possible. If that means having a 24-hour hotline as part of the School Safety & Crisis Planning toolkit, AASA makes it happen. 


Learn more about AASA at aasa.org and if you like what you see, join at aasa.org/join or call 703-875-0748. 

Student's View: What Does College and Career Readiness Mean?

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Student's View: What Does College and Career Readiness Mean?

By Tatiana Le, student intern, AASA, The School Superintendents Association


AASA, The School Superintendents Association, recently released the winners of the 2018 Redefining Ready! Scholarship Contest, which asked high school seniors to create 30-second videos about why they’re ready for college, careers and life beyond grades or a test score. Some got creative like the national first place winner, Daniel Zhang, who made a rap about his high school accomplishments. Others vlogged, drew diagrams and even made presentations. All the videos can be found at http://www.aasa.org/2018-winners.aspx.

While I can’t say much about how high school prepared me for a career or life just yet, watching the videos made me think about my own high school experience and how it prepared me for my first year of college.

I did my fair share of exploring in high school. I joined my school’s swim team without knowing how to swim and drowned for the first three weeks of practice before getting the hang of it and committing to swim for two years. Then, I moved onto the color guard team, where I became captain as a senior.

I did some academic extracurriculars too. I was vice president of my national honor society chapter and president of my school’s math and English honor societies. I was captain of the speech team, placing at states my third year. I helped found a volunteer club called Cranes for a Cause, which got its name from our first project where we folded 1,000 cranes to decorate the office of a staff member who lost her husband. From that club and other miscellaneous organizations, I racked up over 400 hours of community service by graduation. I also wasn’t coming home until well after 10 pm some days because I was paranoid I wasn’t doing enough.

In retrospect, what prepared me the most for college were the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma program. Like many other students, I did a lot of what I did just to build my resume. The IB Diploma was no exception. I wanted to take the hardest classes offered at my school and walk away with a tangible diploma to dangle in front of college admissions.

That was the wrong mentality to have. You don’t receive your IB Diploma until after graduation, so all I had for college admissions was the “IB Diploma Candidate” title on my transcript. What really prepared me for college was the immense amount of writing I did in the diploma program. I had to write an internalized assessment (IA) at least 10 pages long for every class, a 4,000 word Extended Essay and a 3,000 word Theory of Knowledge essay on top of the essays I was getting as regular classwork (at least an essay or two a week).

All that experience helped me write my scholarship essays, which helped me receive a full four-year scholarship through Questbridge. Writing in high school taught me the drafting, editing and time management skills I use today as an English major. It’s also a marketable skill I use when applying for my internships and part time jobs. As much as I understand the mentality to accumulate as many high school accolades as possible for college applications, you can only fit so much on a one-page resume. After getting into college, nobody cares if you played football in high school if you don’t have the maturity and diligence to handle the coursework as a prospective chemistry major.

I think that the ability to prioritize and hone a few key skills is essential to success in college. Whether a student joins 12 clubs in high school or two, those clubs must mean something beyond a talking point for college interviews.

Student's View: Why Student Leadership is Important in Education

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Student's View: Why Student Leadership is Important in Education

By Tatiana Le, student intern, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Anyone can say that student leadership is important in education, but the harder part is explaining why.

First, to be blunt, leadership experience is essential for students to be competitive as they apply for jobs, college and scholarships. In almost every college interview I had, I was asked to tell a story depicting a time where I stepped up as leader. If the interviewer wanted to stump me, they’d ask me to describe a time where I “solved a problem” or “accomplished something I was proud of.” My job was to fluently deliver a story that was genuine, unique and most importantly, that showed off my skills as an innovator and leader. Those stories can’t be told without experience.

Past the surface though, student leadership is crucial in building confidence. So many students struggle to stand up for themselves when it matters most to them. In class, students listen to their teachers and the rubrics they receive. At home, they listen to their parents, their grandparents and their older siblings. If I didn’t push myself to run for office positions and speak out, I could have easily found myself doing nothing but listening to people throughout high school, whether on a sports team, in a club or in a group project.

I remember one of my best friends in high school constantly complaining about how our honor societies had become husks; applications ceased to be selective and members faked their service hours to earn cords to wear at graduation. As much as she was frustrated, she never ran for president. She never spoke to the society sponsors or the school administration because she thought she could never change it. She complained to me and not the rest of the student body because she thought that everyone else was content with the situation when the reality was, there were other students fed up with the system too. They were all just waiting for a leader to come along because it was easier to wait.

Academic Quiz Bowl Tournament

Students should not feel powerless in an institution that is supposed to empower them. However, when they feel they are trapped in situations where they have no say, it’s no wonder why they prefer to obey, get their good grades and get out. Not to say that there is no room for followers. Every leader needs strong followers to get anything done, but that strength comes from the confidence of knowing that you are a leader in your own way. You are not following to follow, but you are following because you believe in the leader’s ideas and you know you can step up and lead if you disagree.

I built my confidence as captain of the academic quiz bowl team. There is nothing more terrifying to me than being tested in front of people whose jobs are to score your mistakes. I had to do that, and I had to have the guts to tell other people they should try it too.

There are many other benefits to student leadership that I can’t talk about in a single blog post like teamwork, interpersonal skills, responsibility, organizational skills and communication. Bottom line is that I think every student needs experience in a meaningful leadership position where they have the resources ability to make the change they want to make. That’s just how I grow best as a student and become life-ready.



Student's View: First Week and First Impressions

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Student's View: First Week and First Impressions

By Tatiana Le, student intern, AASA, The School Superintendents Association   

AASA Internship As a rising sophomore at a liberal arts college pursuing an English B.A. and looking to teach after graduating, I embody the stereotype of the starving college snowflake destined to be paid less than my STEM counterparts for a job I find “fulfilling.”  

    As such, I rushed to apply for an internship with AASA, The School Superintendents Association, in hopes of receiving solid work experience related to my interests. AASA is the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders in the United States and it serves its members in different capacities from informational newsletters to advocacy.  

    This week was my first week here at my first internship ever. My internship is twofold; I work with two supervisors, Jay Goldman, editor of the School Administrator, and Gayane Minasyan, director of online technologies, on a variety of tasks from reviewing manuscript to sending alerts through the AASA mobile app. This week has been a learning experience above all else as I slowly adapt to the new environment.  

    On the magazine side, I’ve learned a lot about the process a manuscript goes through, from the author’s discovery of the AASA author guidelines to the final publication. I had the opportunity to read rejected and accepted manuscripts and the feedback each manuscript received from the staff. A decision can take months and some manuscripts take years to get published because of factors like lack of an appropriate theme.   

    I also had the chance to sit in on a monthly magazine meeting with the designer to select photography and digital artwork for the August edition. So much goes into the production of a single magazine. The article lineup has to make sense before any of the designing can take place. Then there has to be balance between artwork and photos. Some photos aren’t bright enough, high quality enough or have too much empty space. Some artwork is too expensive, needs to be commissioned or doesn’t fit stylistically. It’s a long process full of troubleshooting.  

    The online technologies side is just as complicated. With over 14 websites to manage, two national newsletters and a sizable social media presence, there’s constantly information to find and share. My first glimpse of AASA’s social media usage came from Deanna Atkins, digital content manager. I have personal accounts with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, but I never realized what it entails to write for 24,000 plus professionals and keep them engaged on a daily basis. There are so many leadership initiatives, program events, hashtags and people to know when sending a two-sentence tweet. As someone who’s relatively young and supposed to be good with social media, this week has been a reality check.  

    I also enjoyed sitting in on the webinar “How to Work Effectively with School Boards and Search Firms to Advance Your Career” with four women leaders, Carmella S. Franco, search consultant (Calif.), Allison Schafer, legal counsel and director of policy, School Boards Association (N.C.), Susan Enfield, superintendent, Highline Public Schools (Wash.) and Patricia E. Neudecker, AASA past president, director of administrative leadership, assistant professor, Alverno College (Wis.). I never knew that only 25% of superintendent applications in North Carolina were women despite the fact women comprise the overwhelming majority of educators. It was enlightening to hear stories of how women accept substandard compensation without looking at previous contracts and advocating for themselves in negotiations.  

    Overall, it’s been an educational week full of new people, technology and office experiences. It can be overwhelming at times considering how new everything is, but I’m looking forward to spending the next two months of summer here.