Profile

Blending School Skills With Business Acumen

by Jay P. Goldman

He’s spent 25 years in superintend-encies of school systems of varying size and even an odd 24-hour stretch heading the New York City Public Schools. So as he assumes the AASA executive director’s post this summer, Dan Domenech commands a genuine understanding of what his colleagues in the field most yearn for in terms of skills, knowledge and political influence.

But it may be his experiences treading in the fast-paced and unpredictable waters of corporate America over the past four years that have Domenech so capably positioned to move the professional association whose membership card he has carried for 29 years to a more prominent and vital place on the education landscape.

As a senior vice president of Manhattan-based McGraw-Hill Education since March 2004, Domenech, 62, spent most of his time directing consulting services and developing relationships with large school districts, while increasing awareness of McGraw-Hill’s offerings. He also had a hand in product development and hosted a podcast series for school leaders.

Bill Oldsey, Domenech’s boss in the corporate workplace, considered him a quick study at learning the intricacies of the publishing process and the demands of product efficacy. “We realized he had tremendous depth and breadth of knowledge about the way large districts worked,” says Oldsey, McGraw-Hill Education’s executive vice president. “Once we hired him, it became apparent he was an excellent collaborator — not easy for someone who’s been the superintendent of one of the largest school districts in the country and suddenly becomes part of this different entity.”

Domenech figures his newfound dexterity in the use of metrics in measurement will have an essential home in his new role. “The performance-based culture of business is worth looking at,” he says.

Appointed to his first superintendency at age 33, Domenech (pronounced dom-eh-NITCH) worked his way up from the 6,700-student Deer Park, N.Y., schools to the Western Suffolk BOCES on Long Island to the 168,000-student Fairfax County, Va., system. He also spent an infamous single day in September 1995 as chancellor of the New York City Public Schools before Mayor Rudolph Giuliani strong-armed his own appointment on the school board.

Along the way, Domenech has monitored a state-takeover school district, managed ethnically diverse communities and crafted a smooth style of personal communications, even in the most stressful of moments. He had his share of those in Fairfax County, where during one stretch he had to contend with the aftermath of 9/11 in an area with likely terrorist targets, unpopular restrictions on student field trips and travel abroad, a series of sniper attacks around the Washington suburbs and the impact of Hurricane Isabel.

A past president of the association, Domenech says he envisions the directorship as “less of a job than a calling,” and he expects to establish AASA as the go-to organization whenever superintendents have a need for information or counsel in their 24/7 leadership lives. He will be working to expand the revenue base to offer new services.

A native of Cuba, Domenech often relates stories of his own early school days as an immigrant on the West Side of Manhattan. In his personal life, he’s just as committed to the downtrodden. During his time in Fairfax County, Domenech and his wife Lori served as emergency foster parents, hosting young children in crisis situations in their home.

“We were eating out at a restaurant one night with a black child, a Latino child and an Asian child,” Domenech recalls. “The waiter gave me a look. ‘Yes, they’re all my children.’”

Jay Goldman is editor of The School Administrator. E-mail: jgoldman@aasa.org

BIO STATS: DAN DOMENECH

Currently:
AASA executive director

Previously:
senior vice president, McGraw-Hill Education, New York, N.Y.

Age:
62

Greatest influence:
My parents brought me to the United States at the age of 9. They instilled the value of an education and I, in turn, realized at 15 I loved working with children and wanted to be a teacher.

Best professional day:
When I received a call from the chair of the Deer Park, N.Y., board of education informing me the board had selected me as their superintendent. It was my first superintendency, and the call came on my 33rd birthday!

Books at bedside:
1491 by Charles Mann; The Appeal by John Grisham; Why School Communication Matters, Strategies from PR Professionals by Kitty Porterfield and Meg Carnes (co-published by AASA)

Biggest blooper:
In my last winter as superintendent in Fairfax County, Va., I was confronted with one of those snow-day calls. At 5 a.m. the forecast called for icy conditions, but there was no precipitation. At 5:15, I decided to open school. An icy drizzle began to fall just as buses began to pick up students. The predicted warming conditions never materialized and it proved to be a treacherous morning. The phone calls to my office carried messages along the lines of: “Can I talk to the jerk who kept our schools open today?”

Why I’m an AASA member:
I cannot conceive of being a superintendent and not being a member of AASA. It is our professional organization and the voice of the superintendent in Washington, D.C. AASA also provides me with the opportunity to network with colleagues from around the country and to hone the skills I need.