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.

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