President's Corner                                           Page 46


Sending Mixed Messages 



 Benny Gooden

More than four decades in school leadership have made me keenly aware that all other decisions we are called upon to make pale in comparison to those associated with selecting, developing, nurturing and retaining the right people at every level of the public school organization. It is appropriate that my first monthly column as president of AASA should coincide with a theme issue on staffing for our schools.

Pathways leading to teaching and school leadership have changed during the past half-century as the traditional ways we enter the profession — primarily through a university-based training process — have been supplanted by alternate entry points. These range from the Teach for America model to alternative licensure programs for second-career teachers and district administrators from the business management ranks. The debate is sure to continue regarding the relative merits of the traditional university-based training processes versus entry from other fields, as each pathway has its own strengths and deficits.

Our greatest concern must be filling the ranks with quality teachers and school leaders, especially as today’s career educators enter retirement. Jim Collins’ bestseller Good to Great highlighted the importance of having the right people “on the bus” and “in the right seats,” conjuring an image that resonates with everyone who works in schools.

Every school leader knows the importance of selecting the right personnel for every grade, every program and every educational role. When these selections are done with care, they can lead to remarkable success. Unfortunately, we often are deterred by a lack of quality candidates.

In those nations considered superior to the United States in educational success, the top students aspire to be teachers. This is not the case among our American high school graduates. Can it be that teachers in the United States are not given the rewards or respect that would entice high-achieving students to choose a career in education, and do these factors limit our access to the best candidates?

Filling positions in education with those whose stated commitment is only a few years as opposed to a full career represents a Band-Aid when the figurative wound is wide. The national imperative must be to recruit and retain quality educators for the long term from among the most able tiers of entering students. This will require compensation and consideration by the public that goes beyond current practice. It will not be accomplished by plans that reduce compensation, benefits and retirement security. Nor will it be accomplished in the face of demeaning statements by national leaders toward teachers and administrators.

AASA members must model the best in leadership in public education while advocating for working conditions and respect for all educators that will make our work appealing. Make no mistake — ours is a noble calling that will not be filled by recruits from a temp agency.

AASA’s mission is to develop and support school system leadership while advocating for the highest-quality public education for every student in America’s public schools. Paramount in this mission is the selection of top-quality people to serve in our schools. As district-level leaders become stronger, they will make better personnel decisions at every level. The results will validate the wisdom of the choices we make. If we do not achieve the desired results, there is cause for us to first turn to ourselves for answers.

I am looking forward to a great year as your AASA president. Together we can make the public schools stronger and more responsive to our community needs.

Benny Gooden is AASA president for 2012-13. E-mail: bgooden@fortsmithschools.org 



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