President’s Corner

The Power of Family

by Donald L. Kussmaul, presdent, AASA

AASA past president and good friend John Lawrence and I have had some great conversations about leadership in education and the future of that leadership in recent years. John talks about the “legacy of pride” that we have as educational leaders and he wonders if we have done enough to prepare new leaders to accept what he calls “the future of responsibility.”

Like John, I believe strongly in AASA’s motto that “Public Education is the Heart of Our Democracy.” But have we, as a generation of baby boomers who are more concerned about “I” than “they,” done enough to prepare the next generation to take the responsibility to lead our profession and begin their own legacy? Only time will tell if we have planted the seed, nurtured the seedling and established a strong root system for the future.

I have been honored to work with a family whose members have set their own destiny in education, who have established that solid foundation. Although you have probably not heard of them, they represent the grassroots of America.

Twenty-six years ago I began my career as a superintendent and high school principal in the small school district of Tiskilwa Unit District 300 in Bureau County, Ill. I stayed in Tiskilwa for four years, but in that short time I learned more about myself and about leadership than anywhere else by working with the Prusators family.

The Prusators lived, ate, slept, breathed and believed in the American education system. Bob was the elementary school principal, athletic director and varsity basketball coach. He lived and modeled everything that was good and right about education and expected no less from his students, team members and family. His wife, Eileen, was a nurse for a local physician but was more of a school nurse than anyone else in the county.

The Prusators’ sons were honor students, great athletes, strong in their faith and true gentlemen. All three had their parents’ drive to be the best and to honor and respect others.

Bob, who began and ended his career in the small community of Tiskilwa, knew he had the best job in the best place in the world for raising children and being together as a family. One of the top five winningest coaches in Illinois high school basketball history, Bob received many offers to leave the community and earn much more money, but he knew what it meant to have roots and consistency in his family, so he stayed.

When I left Tiskilwa, I asked Bob if he wanted to be superintendent. He said he did, but he couldn’t at that time because he had one more son to coach. Jeff, his youngest, was entering his sophomore year of high school. When Jeff graduated, the superintendency opened and the board of education appointed Bob to lead the school district. By this time, Eileen was the Bureau County school nurse; their oldest son, Bob Jr., was teaching history, and their second son, Todd, was on the threshold of a career as an English teacher.

Even after Bob Sr. retired from the superintendency several years later, he served as interim superintendent. I watched his sons grow and mature. All three stayed in education, all three married teachers. And in the fall of 2004, Jeff and Todd Prusator followed in their older brother’s footsteps and became superintendents.

This is a family whose members can be proud of their legacy. They have accepted the future of responsibility in this the greatest democracy in the world and are a shining example of the power of the family.

Donald Kussmaul is president of AASA.