President's Corner

Shaping the Future

by Sarah D. Jerome

Several years ago at an AASA National Conference on Education, former Secretary of Education Richard Riley, a great friend to education and to this association, shared a poem from East Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore:

I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and found that life was duty.
I acted — and behold — duty was joy.

Duty and joy are interwoven with our every action and thought. Their balances shift at times, sometimes weighing more heavily toward one or the other, but sometimes so intertwined as to be indistinguishable. Such is the case when I think about what lies ahead for AASA and its members.

Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould espoused a theory of punctuated equilibrium, suggesting evolution doesn’t happen at a slow and steady pace, but in fast crescendos after extended static periods. AASA may be on the precipice of just such an evolutionary cycle.

In part, what brings us to this precipice is a world that is changing around us. We are witnessing economic shifts, changes in the traditional balances of power and increased diversity. The United States has more religious, racial and ethnic diversity within its borders than any other country in the world — and thus more diversity in our public school classrooms. And just as educational leaders work to create an atmosphere of community, ownership, engagement and pride in our schools, so must AASA embrace this richness of diversity in its membership and in its leadership.

Recognizing the growing number of women, Latino, African American, Asian and Native American educational leaders, we must reach out to make AASA welcoming and attractive to all. It is our duty to do so and it is my main goal as your president. It is not sufficient to contend we are an organization that embraces and encourages leaders from all backgrounds in our public schools and then not model that commitment ourselves.

In his book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, William Bridges tells us we are all in the process of transitions. Some changes are a result of uninvited and perhaps even catastrophic events, but others are invited and welcome changes. Bridges reminds us that in order to grow and learn from change, we must embrace it — fully engage with it and let go of the past in order to embrace the future. That, he says, is the metamorphosis.

We have a choice. We can shape our future or get swept away by the tsunami of change coming our way. Each of us knows that personal change is a result of growing and learning. This happens in organizations, too. And as we engage in this metamorphosis, we must keep Tagore’s poem as our mantra, for duty is, indeed, joy.

Hero Profile: Helen Kurtz
Helen Kurtz, assistant superintendent for education services in Arlington Heights, Ill., District 25, personifies the American dream. A first-generation immigrant, she was born in Salzburg, Austria, in 1949, where her family settled after fleeing Nazi-ruled Yugoslavia. Just months after her birth, the family was sponsored by Catholic Charities and left for America, arriving in North Carolina with one suitcase, four girls and five dollars.

Kurtz’ father soon realized that sharecropping was not the path to a better life, so the family moved to Detroit where he worked in a factory. Kurtz attended the Detroit Public Schools, then continued her studies at the University of Michigan, Northeastern Illinois University and Drake University.

Helen Kurtz has spent 36 years giving back to the public school system that helped her fulfill her dreams. Her story has been re-lived by hundreds of thousands of immigrants seeking a better life through education, and it serves as a reminder to us that we are the custodians of that opportunity.

Sarah Jerome is AASA president in 2007-08. E-mail: