Retirement Tribute                           Online Exclusive


Remaining True to the Core 



Noelle Ellerson

“Did you hear that Bruce is retiring?”

What sounds like an innocent question is a matter of recent lore here at AASA. When I started to work at the association in 2007, this question already was floating around. Superintendents would ask at AASA’s national conference, fellow education advocates would ask at meetings around town. As years passed and we reached the second half of 2013, I started to rely on “Bruce is retiring in 2009.” That would bring the understanding smiles and knowing nods.

Bruce — he may be the only AASA staff so immediately identifiable by a given name — is an institution, a force to be reckoned with in relation to AASA and federal advocacy. Bruce, retire?!

That makes this task — retelling a few tales that illustrate how Bruce manages to cram enough life, personality and work ethic for three people into his one being — slightly more than daunting.

“We represent AASA members and their priorities on the Hill. Not the other way around.”
That sentiment is one of the first things Bruce ever told me in my tenure at AASA. It is the cornerstone around which he built the AASA advocacy team and reputation, one of the strongest in the federal education advocacy community. It is the truth by which you can evaluate why something worked so well. It is the closest thing there is to an AASA advocacy slogan. It separates AASA from other advocacy groups, who may bend their policy positions so as to have a position at the table or for other political posturing.

It is refreshing for our colleagues on Capitol Hill to know that what AASA identifies as superintendent priorities will mirror what they hear from superintendents back in their home state or congressional district. In the advocacy business, Bruce’s approach relies on the fact that you need to know — and remain true to — your organization’s membership, your core, your foundation. At AASA, that means the members who are running public school districts.

In life, that means your family. For Bruce, in particular, it means his children and grandchildren. Of all the stories and life anecdotes Bruce has passed my way, few make him smile or laugh as hard as the ones that involve his children, Howie, Chico, Robert and Lizzie. From Howie and Chico’s track and science accomplishments in high school and college, along with their career accomplishments and — perhaps more importantly, making Bruce a grandpa — to the stories of traveling through Russia with Robert and Lizzie, it’s clear that Bruce’s commitment to AASA’s advocacy approach is still a distant second to that of his commitment to family.

It will be surreal to walk into the office come Sept. 1 and not have Bruce to rehash the weekend with, to harass about the Denver Broncos or, eventually, to run through the legislative strategy for a federal reauthorization or an especially wacky legislative proposal. I’ll definitely miss his jovial laughter, where he looks and sounds as innocent as Santa, though we all know the twinkle in Hunter’s eye is sometimes less than angelic.

All joking aside, the fact remains that Bruce is a force to be reckoned with, one of the best colleagues a young education advocate could hope to learn from and work with, a dedicated employee and a friend. Most obviously, he will be sorely missed.

Best of luck in your next adventure, Bruce. And wear lots of sunscreen in that Arizona heat!

Noelle Ellerson is AASA’s assistant director for policy analysis and advocacy. E-mail: nellerson@aasa.org


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