President's Corner

An Immigrant Fulfilling a Dream

by Daniel A. Domenech

Agood friend of mine, now a retired superintendent from Long Island, N.Y., used to delight in saying, "What a country, this America!"

His name is Joe Del Rosso, a first-generation American whose parents migrated to the United States from Italy. He uttered that exclamation with such wondrous delight, an affirmation that a child raised in a household with limited means had now risen to the good life.

Like Joe’s parents, I, too, am an immigrant. I came to the United States at the age of nine from my native Cuba. Living on the west side of Manhattan at about the same time "West Side Story" was written, I saw my mother work in a sweat shop on the Lower East Side making dresses for 25 cents apiece. I saw my father, a sheet metal mechanic, roll plates in temperatures of approximately 120 degrees.

Today, their child, Danielito Angel Antonio Domenech Garcia is president of the American Association of School Administrators. What a country, this America!

Like many immigrants to this country who have fulfilled their American dream, I owe my success to supportive parents who made my education their No. 1 priority. As a nation, we are successful because we are enriched by diversity and offer everyone a chance through public education. That’s why I have declared "Diversity: Challenges & Opportunities" as the theme for my year as AASA president.

I am asking you to join me and our nearly 15,000 colleagues who are leaders in schools and school systems across America in making sure that every child, from whatever background, has a chance at reaching the golden ring.

What challenges we face! Millions of African American and Latino children are at risk in our inner-city schools. A significant achievement gap has opened between urban and suburban America. Even in our suburbs, the gap is widening between districts with high minority enrollment and the white majority.

Why should we be concerned? First, we should be concerned that all of these students represent our collective future as a nation. We have no children to waste. Second, these differences will have major consequences for our society because they will lead to inequalities among this nation’s students that could last throughout their lifetimes. The cost of neglect runs much higher than the investment we make in helping each and every child achieve.

Of course, our diversity extends beyond ethnicity. Consider, also, communities where students attend school in facilities that are safety hazards. Consider communities where students lack adequate textbooks and the most basic instructional materials, where technology is all but absent, where classroom enrollments are high and where teachers are poorly prepared or unappreciated. These are concerns that demand our attention.

There is, of course, another side to diversity in America--an upside. As the most diverse nation on earth, we are poised for success in the world economy. We need to value our diversity, explore it and build on it. We need to see our language minorities as linguistic resources and help all students explore ethnic diversity at home and abroad.

The challenge for all of us in leadership positions is to assert ourselves on behalf of our educationally disadvantaged students. Our opportunity is to build a world-class national community, based on a world-representative population. If we pursue both the challenge and the opportunity of our diversity, we will ensure that every person who is a product of our nation’s education system can exclaim with wondrous delight, "What a country, this America!"

My deepest appreciation to Karl Hertz for his outstanding service as AASA president this past year and to AASA members across the nation and in other parts of the world who have made it possible for me to serve as your president.