President's Corner

Amigos Para Siempre

by DANIEL A. DOMENECH

You cannot believe how quickly my year as AASA president has gone. Those of us who aspire to this office spend years planning, then running for the Executive Committee and the presidency itself.

At one moment, I was at the 1998 National Conference on Education in San Diego telling members what I intended to accomplish during my presidency. In what seemed a blink, I was in New Orleans, thanking everyone for their support.

 

The experiences of this past year have made many lasting impressions. For example, in a meeting with our British counterparts in Stafford, England, we were surprised by the ill regard they show colleagues at the national level. As Americans, would we be less than courteous if U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley came to visit? Regardless of our position on IDEA and the lateness of the regulations, we would be on our best behavior.

This is not so with our British cousins. They let their inspector general have it on issues ranging from the national curriculum to the assessment process. Did somebody say a national exam?

After returning from what turned out to be an interesting and productive meeting in Britain and surviving what seemed like driving on the wrong side of the road, I next found myself in Havana, Cuba, for an educational study mission. Here, no less than 90 miles from U.S. shores, is one of the few remaining bastions of communism.

I had not returned to Cuba, the land of my birth, in 44 years, fearing that if I went, they might not let me out. However, I could not pass up the opportunity to go as "el presidente," at least of AASA.

The 1999 National Conference on Education in New Orleans was a highlight of the year. What a pleasure to personally greet school leaders and the many outstanding speakers who are attracted to the conference. We even discovered that Bill Gates has a sense of humor. Who would have thought it?

Of course, the most lasting impression of the year came from the opportunity to meet so many wonderful colleagues from across the nation. At the New York state superintendents' mid-winter conference, I heard their state superintendent of the year give a rousing speech that brought everyone to their feet and made us all glad that we are in this business.

In New Orleans, Barbara Grohe eloquently introduced a young man who was recipient of the scholarship she was able to bestow as 1998 National Superintendent of the Year. She reminded us that the true glory of the superintendency lies in what we do for kids.

I'm also reminded of a palace in Havana that was the home of former dictator Fulgencio Batista and served as a barracks for his soldiers. In the place of that palace, a school now stands. There, our touring group of American educators joined hands and formed a circle with Cuban children. For a moment, political differences were forgotten, discrepancies in pedagogical styles were overlooked as we circled the room and sang, "Amigos para siempre." Forever friends.

It has been a wonderful year. What a privilege to have served you as president of AASA. It is my deepest hope that we, too, will remain forever friends.

My thanks to the members of AASA, the Executive Committee and staff for their support and encouragement during the past year. I know you join me in wishing Joe Cirasuolo the very best as he becomes our new president.