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.


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