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Executive Perspective                                 Page 48

 

Incubating a Force of

County Leaders    

 

BY DANIEL A. DOMENECH

 Daniel Domenech

During AASA’s 147-year history, the association has served as an incubator for many developing associations. During the early years when our state affiliate associations were being formed, AASA provided some financial support. Some state executives were employed by AASA. Now the state associations are thriving and totally independent.

In 1998, the year I served as president of AASA, we met with a group of Latino superintendents and encouraged the development of what is now ALAS, the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents. Over the years we have similarly encouraged and supported the formation of affinity groups with interests in suburban, rural and large-city systems. Our annual Women in School Leadership Forum, held last month in Newport Beach, Calif., is yet another example of our attempts to support alike interest groups within AASA.

During the years I was superintendent in Fairfax County, Va., I was struck by the difference between running a large countywide school system and my previous experiences as a suburban superintendent in New York. Just as I had benefitted from my relationship with my superintendent colleagues on Long Island, I craved a relationship with other large county school systems. That never came to pass during my tenure in Fairfax, but I recently discovered that Jack Dale, the current superintendent in Fairfax, had been holding discussions with Jerry Weast, then in Montgomery County, Md., and Alvin Wilbanks from Gwinnett County, Ga., about forming such a group. They had been meeting with EducationCounsel, the law, policy and advocacy firm that includes former Secretary of Education Richard Riley as a senior partner. At the superintendents’ request, we convened at EducationCounsel’s Washington, D.C., offices to discuss the formation of the Large Countywide and Suburban District Consortium.

A Representative Profile
The group had its official launch this summer with seven other large county systems joining the original three. Dale was elected to chair the group, with Alvin Wilbanks serving as vice chair. The 10 districts together educate a population of more than 1 million students. They stretch along 3,000 square miles of the southeastern sector of the United States.

The consortium’s mission is to significantly advance systemic education reforms and innovation in policy and practice. These are large systems whose demographic profile resembles that of our nation and who rank high in key metrics of student perform-ance. Eighty-one percent of their students graduate from high school in four years, and 80 percent of them go on to college.

Among the group are some of the highest-performing school districts in the nation, and all can point to notable achievements in closing the achievement gap for minorities and economically disadvantaged students. It is the intent of the group to learn from each other by establishing a community of practice and identifying and acting on opportunities for joint action. This will include setting up visitations among the member districts where teams will observe first-hand outstanding programs and practices. Benchmarking opportunities will allow for meaningful comparisons with districts of similar size, demographics and economic makeup.

The group also hopes to serve as a resource to federal policymakers. Congressional staffers were invited to the first meeting this summer, and they indeed indicated they would welcome the opportunity to use the consortium as a sounding board for potential legislation such as the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The AASA advocacy team, headed up by Bruce Hunter, and the EducationCounsel’s staff will work with the consortium to facilitate that interaction.

Formidable Allies
Reaction to date to the group’s formation has been highly positive. The consortium can add its voice to the many successful school systems throughout America that exemplify what is best about our public schools. The system leaders are proven educators who can speak to the consequences of proposed legislation crafted by individuals who may not have been in a classroom since graduation. They can speak to the consequences of budget cuts and their real impact on children. They can be formidable allies to their colleagues who face the same issues and consequences but lack the bully pulpit.

The Large Countywide and Suburban District Consortium hopes to expand to a group of 20 districts during the current school year. It would like to be more representative of the nation and seeks large county and suburban districts from throughout the land. If you are interested in learning more, please contact me.

Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org 

 

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