President's Corner

The National Conference: Back to the Future

by Eugene G. White

The late H. Dean Evans was a friend and mentor of mine. He made significant contributions to the education of thousands of Indiana children through his work as teacher, coach, principal, superintendent of schools and state superintendent.

I was fortunate to be the superintendent of the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township, where Dean had served as superintendent and in which he lived. He often called me “Mr. Superintendent” and reminded me that he was one of my taxpayers. I loved to talk to Dean about his early days when he was making the transition from being a building administrator to a district leader.

One of the most positive professional experiences for him was attending the AASA National Conference on Education. It was a happening. It was a very big deal to have an opportunity to come together with colleagues and district leaders from around the country to explore, share, celebrate and recharge. As I recall Dean’s excitement about those national conferences of yesteryear, I can’t help but ask how we can recapture some of that magic — you know by going “back to the future.”

Things and people have changed. In those days AASA was the only game in town for school district leaders. Old timers from Indiana tell of the train ride to Atlantic City, N.J. — rides consumed with card games (gambling possibly), drinks, camaraderie and good times. We were a homogeneous organization composed of white males predominately from the Midwest and the East.

AASA’s national conference was the professional mecca, and it was the place to go. The unique experience was fueled as much by location and activities as it was by the themes and the quality of professional presentations. It gave AASA tremendous status and influence. University professors would attend and then urge students to become members because it prepared and enhanced their leadership. It was good to be king!

Over the years, many more professional organizations were created and evolved into competitors for the National Conference on Education. Our membership has evolved and become more diverse, more discriminating and in greater demand. School boards, members of the public and community organizations hold us to a higher level of accountability. The media give greater attention to the activities and business of school leaders. Vendors, professional organizations, special interest groups and universities provide conferences and meetings to prepare us for “new” laws, fads, mandates and the next great idea or answer. Our time is limited and the new communication technology is our needed friend and a great distraction.

We have conducted many National Conferences on Education, but we have never had the opportunity and challenge presented by our March 1-4, 2007, conference in New Orleans, La. We have a unique opportunity to help this great American city continue its comeback from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. Some have been influenced by media reports that show the unbelievable damage still present in New Orleans’ 9th Ward or they hear rumors created out of fear and misinformation.

The city is ready for AASA! We have the opportunity to celebrate our success as an organization and to help our colleagues in the New Orleans and Gulf Coast areas.

We once took train rides to the East Coast, we took plane rides to the West Coast, and we found ways to get to Midwest locations, but never in our history have we had a chance to take a ride this important. Our challenge is to show up. It truly is time to go back to the future. See you in New Orleans!