Systems Thinking

Much To Celebrate on 2nd Anniversary

by Claudia Mansfield Sutton

The AASA Center for System Leadership, the professional development arm of AASA, has just celebrated its second anniversary, and I am devoting this column to sharing the great progress we’ve made.

The AASA Executive Committee and Governing Board founded the center by allocating a portion of each member’s dues to this new and engaging professional development initiative. Additionally, their leadership helped to shape the mission statement: “The AASA Center for System Leadership is a learning organization that fosters, develops and supports superintendents of schools and other school system leaders who are leading the transformation of public education systems.”

Why did the AASA governing bodies create a center? Almost from the time of its inception in the mid-19th century, American public education’s key mission has been to provide access to quality educational opportunity for all children. For more than 100 years, the leaders of American public education pursued this goal. The major accomplishments were the extension of access to equal educational opportunities to minority children, women and children with physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities. For the most part, public education has met this goal of access and equity.

Now public education must ensure each child learns to the same relatively high standard. This is universal success. The AASA governance structure concluded that unless the public education system is designed to achieve universal success, the goal will never be fully reached. And the system will never be adequately redesigned unless those who lead the system know how to redesign a school system. Today’s leaders must be able to think and act with a systems perspective.

The AASA Center for System Leadership completes its primary work through five institutes.

AASA Institute for Leadership Development and Systems Thinking
This institute provides programs based on a systems approach to transforming public education. These programs help school leaders frame problems and opportunities in systems terms; develop a new vision for a redesigned school system; and build and sustain the capacity for change. Specific programs include the Executive Consultants Program; the Superintendents Knowledge Series (Blueprints: A Guide to Public School Plans 403(b)/457(b), the Safe and Secure Schools Conference, and Student Achievement: Superintendents Lead the Way); and the Leadership Matters Virtual Seminar Series.

AASA Institute for New and Aspiring Superintendents
Because we must continue to attract top quality professionals into the superintendency, the content of these programs is particularly relevant to new and aspiring superintendents. The annual New Superintendents Journal and the quarterly New Superintendents e-Journal provide insightful articles, information and resources for new superintendents. Five state affiliates worked with us in 2006-07 to develop innovative programs for superintendents in their second and third year in the chair through the Leading Learning Program.

AASA Institute for Leadership Networks
The center has become the hub for a network of learning organizations sharing core beliefs and convictions regarding public education. The institute facilitates regular meetings of the leaders of these organizations so they can learn from one another and leverage the strengths of each organization. This institute is creating new networks of superintendents and supporting existing networks as they work together to implement systems thinking.

AASA Institute for Professional Advocacy
The mission of this institute is to stand up for public education and those engaged in public education by demonstrating that leadership matters, by advocating for the profession, and by promoting systems thinking in the transformation of public education. To achieve this mission, this institute shares research that supports the finding that superintendent leadership has a positive impact on student achievement. It also collects and publicizes case studies highlighting successful school system leadership. The institute is also involved in developing and promoting rigorous standards for licensure of superintendents.

AASA Institute for Leadership Research and DesignAASA leads and encourages inquiries into various public education designs that might be appropriate as vehicles to transform public education. Several highly successful initiatives have been created to support this work, such as the Research Roundtable program and the “AASA State of the American School Superintendency: A Mid-Decade Study,” which produced a profile of the profession that will serve as a resource for those leading the nation’s schools as well as those charged with preparing and supporting current and aspiring school leaders.

The AASA Center for System Leadership is off to a strong start. If you would like more information about the work of the center, access the leadership development section of the AASA website or contact me.

As with any new undertaking, there have been successes, challenges and opportunities for the AASA Center for System Leadership over its first two years of existence. Many thanks to all AASA members who have supported the center’s work and who have given of their time and talents to guide the development of programs and resources — and have attended its many programs.

Claudia Mansfield Sutton is chief communications and marketing officer and associate executive director for leadership at AASA. E-mail: