President's Corner

New Paths to the Future

by MARK T. BIELANG

I begin my term as president of AASA thankful to the members of the association for giving me the privilege of serving you in this capacity. I am honored to represent this highly respected organization and pledge to do my best to advocate for high-quality public education for all of our nation’s children.

I also wish to extend my deepest appreciation to Randy Collins for his outstanding service and leadership as AASA president during this past year. His focus on children and the success of our public schools has been an inspiration to all of us.

Mark BielangMark T. Bielang


There’s no question that we are living in times and leading school systems that are far different from when we entered this millennium. We are serving children who come through our doors with an unprecedented range of needs, talents and ways of learning. Both federal mandates and the challenges of today’s world demand that we change our thinking about how best to prepare these students for their future — a future that requires different ways of thinking, connecting and behaving.

In his book The Upside of Down, author Thomas Homer-Dixon challenges us when he says, “Until we have an alternative vision, we won’t give up the one we have.” Any thoughts of being complacent about a public education system that is not working for all of our children must be put behind us. We must begin the work of re-imagining public education in America.

Our new reality is rapidly being changed by forces such as new technology, an uncertain economy, global competition, shifting demographics and political interests. At times, these forces seem overwhelming. Change seems relentless and without end. It’s at times like this that we need to regain our focus. As we begin this new school year, I will be using these three C’s to help me stay on track — children, change and connections.

We must never lose sight of why public schools exist, what should guide our decisions and whom we are here to serve: our children. We must recommit ourselves to the belief all children can and will learn so they reach their potential and are able to pursue a future filled with possibilities.

We must keep two questions in the forefront: Are our schools working for our children? Are we preparing our students for postsecondary education and giving them the skills to compete in a global workforce?

Change is our new, unsettling companion. We must find ways to make it our ally. We must commit to doing new things, thinking new thoughts and behaving in new ways. Thriving in times of change requires bold and capable leaders with the courage to make difficult and often unpleasant decisions. Individually and collectively, we need to rise to a higher place of accountability, hope and unity of purpose. We must learn to wholly embrace change and see it as an opportunity.

We must gain a new awareness that will allow us to see the connectivity of the elements in our changing world. None of us, working alone, has the capacity to do everything that has to be done. That’s why we must engage with others as we advocate for our children and continue to change ourselves, our schools, our systems, our professional organizations and the policies that guide our efforts. We must work together to embrace complexity, be imaginative and navigate through the chaos. The future of our world depends upon us creating the connections that will help our children shape their future.

I invite you to join me in creating new paths to the future. It’s vital to our children and to the future of public education that we be the leaders who embrace change and work with others to eliminate the barriers that may prevent our students from walking down the path of success.

Mark Bielang is AASA president for 2009-10. E-mail: mtbielan@ppps.org