AASA's Institute for Leadership Networks

by Juli Finnell Jones

Since its founding in 1865, the American Association of School Administrators has a long history of successfully providing school system leaders with knowledge and professional development opportunities specific to their unique needs. The AASA Center for System Leadership is carrying that tradition into the 21st century.

The center, established in 2005, supports superintendents and other system leaders who are directing the transformation of public education from a system designed to provide universal access to one designed to achieve universal success among all students.

The center's Institute for Leadership Networks is the hub for a network of organizations that share a set of core beliefs (see below). In this role, it has two primary activities — facilitating regular interactions among these organizations' leaders so they can learn from one another and advance their collective work; and developing new networks of like-sized and like-minded school districts whose leaders value the benefits that can accrue from collegial, action-oriented relationships with each other.

The overriding goal of both of these activities and of the AASA Institute for Leadership Networks is to instill systemic change as a cultural value for the profession of school system leader.

New Consortia
The purpose of the Network of Leadership Networks is to increase the effectiveness of each member organization by deepening their leaders' understanding of networks as a force for transforming public education.

Members of the network include the AASA Center for System Leadership, Center for Performance Assessment, College Board, Connecticut Center for School Change, Large City School Superintendents, Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform and Western States Benchmarking Consortium.

The network is seeking to expand the number of networks that are connected to it. It is supported in part by Pearson Education.

The AASA Institute for Leadership Networks is developing new consortia composed of school districts from across the country whose leaders want to work jointly to share successes and challenges. These consortia explore what works, what doesn't and why.

The model for the institute's work in this area is the Western States Benchmarking Consortium, which for more than 10 years has enabled the leaders of its constituent districts to address important issues related to student achievement. The WSBC is a forum that has proven to be a powerful asset for these leaders as they make significant improvements in the effectiveness of the school systems they serve.

AASA is working to make the experience that has benefited WSBC members available to many other school system leaders nationwide.

A Tipping Point
AASA's long-term vision is for this work of connection and support to be extended until the number of educational leaders connected to the Institute for Leadership Networks is large enough in number and influential enough in impact to reach a tipping point in the very culture of the profession itself.

Once that point is reached, the value structure of the profession will be consistent with universal success, and that value structure will be the foundation for a new age in effectiveness for educational leaders across the United States.

Organizations interested in participating as a member of the Network of Leadership Networks and superintendents interested in forming new networks should contact me at AASA.

Juli Finnell Jones is director of education and leadership development at AASA. E-mail:


Core Beliefs

The AASA Center for System Leadership was founded on a strong set of eight core beliefs that guide its work and the work of its Institute for Leadership Networks.

Additional information can be found at

• Public education must be transformed to meet the expectation of universal success.

• A society of highly competent workers and responsible citizens needs a strong public education system.

• Strong social support systems are necessary for the healthy growth and development of children.

• Educators must believe in and exhibit behaviors that support the concept of universal success for each and every child.

• To positively impact the growth and development of each and every child, public school systems must operate effectively within networks of systems.

• Educational leadership programs must engage participants in systems thinking so that education leaders have the knowledge and skills necessary to lead systemic change.

• Systemic change requires extensive public engagement and understanding of the reasons for change.

• Effective leadership is essential for building the capacity for systemic change resulting in universal success.