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Governance and Policymaking:

New Structures Over Time But Continuing Focus on Students

The Delegate Assembly at AASA's 107th annual convention in Dallas, Texas, in February 1975.


For the organization, however, perhaps the largest, long-term change occurred in 2004. That’s when AASA decided to alter fundamentally how it is governed, creating a seven-region, 135-member Governing Board that provides overall direction for the organization with a special emphasis on policy-related areas.

Today, a smaller 22-member Executive Committee, consisting of regional members elected from the Governing Board, oversees policy implementation and develops resolutions and the legislative agenda.

“It really has expanded the role of governance in the organization,” says Eugene White, who was on the Executive Committee at the time and served as AASA’s president in 2006-07. “The structure provides an opportunity for a broader representation of AASA’s membership to bring their perspectives to the governance process. As our organization gets leaner at the staff level, it allows us to be more strategic, flexible and adaptable to the challenges we face, so that we’re more organized to deal with future changes.”

A Refined Campaign System

During its century-long relationship with the National Education Association, AASA had a separate executive committee that met with NEA leadership annually. In 1968, however, the governance structure was revamped as the organization moved away from NEA and merged its governing board with the National Academy for School Executives.




In 1975, two years after formally severing ties with NEA, AASA set up a Delegate Assembly structure that represented 48 states and nine at-large candidates. The assembly met prior to the association’s annual conference to adopt resolutions and policies that shaped AASA’s working agenda for the coming year.


“When I served on the Executive Committee, it had only six members. We met about five times a year and worked together closely, so we came to know each other well,” says Norman Hall, AASA president in 1978-79. “When I decided to run for president-elect, it was really a full-fledged national election. Campaigning was a big thing involving lots of travel.”

The cost of running for office grew out of control as one successful candidate raised almost $100,000 to support the printing and mailing of campaign postcards to every association member. Vote brokering took place among state associations as candidates found it necessary to travel across the country to make appearances at state-level events. Campaign booths at the national conference distributed an array of trinkets.

The large-scale and increasingly expensive campaigns continued until the mid-1990s, when AASA rescaled its governing structure and appointed a special committee to develop stringent election guidelines, which remain in effect.

White, a superintendent in Indiana who was elected under the new structure after being active in the campaign to help Ben Canada become the organization’s first African-American president, compared the two eras.

“In the days of Ben Canada, things were so, so political and segmented,” he says. “The types of campaigns they ran looked like you were running for president of the United States, not president of AASA. I did not have to run on a national platform like Ben and others before him did. When I ran, the separations were not as great. And it helped that I was from an area of the country where AASA has its largest percentage of members.”

A decade later, in 2004, AASA modified the structure again, creating a 21-member Executive Committee and a 140-member Governing Board, with representation dictated by membership numbers within the states comprising each of the body’s seven geographic regions.

A Sustained Focus

One thing is certain: Doing what’s right for local schools and students has been a hallmark of AASA’s policy stances over the past 150 years, no matter how the governing board is structured. Many of those stances have revolved around improving federal funding, and while a number have fallen on deaf ears in Congress, the association has a proven track record of supporting aid for children in need.

Taking a glance through AASA’s records and Arthur H. Rice’s 1964 historical report, “AASA: The Centennial Story,” one cannot help but be struck by the cyclical nature of K-12 public education and the recurring issues that crop up to this day.

“Everything old becomes new at some point in an educator’s career, and that’s why you see these issues coming back again and again,” says Paul Houston, AASA’s former executive director. “The key for me, and I think our history supports this, is that the association’s policies and practices should be based on whether we are doing what’s right for kids.”

In November 1870, five years after the organization was formed in the aftermath of the Civil War, AASA members adopted a resolution urging Congress to equalize funding for all schools “without regard to color or previous condition.” Almost 100 years later, as school districts continued to struggle with racial integration and racial unrest in 1968, the AASA Governing Board said, “No child should be denied a high quality education merely because of an accident of residence.”

At a February 1895 meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, superintendents passed a resolution setting two primary goals. First, “the public schools should be absolutely free from the domination of those who would prostitute them to political or personal ends.” Second, “the management of the schools should be in the hands of educational experts, clothed with adequate power, protected in their tenure of office, and held responsible for results.”

From the late 19th century through the 1920s, AASA’s leadership pushed for improved literacy, simplified spelling and the development of vocational education programs. In consecutive years (1910 and 1911), members took a “firm and clear stand” on the issue of the separation of church and state and urged school districts to make their buildings more accessible to the community during non-instructional periods.

In 1908, AASA’s leadership supported a resolution promoting vocational education, saying, “The fitting of a child for life in industry, shop, farm, or home ranks next to the importance of the building of character, the cultivation of intelligence, and subordinate and contributive to these, the training of the hand, which are the chief aims of education.”

Proud Stances

Over the past half century, AASA’s policies have continued to focus on ways to help children be ready and prepared for school. Early childhood education, nutrition and health, civic leadership, and college and career readiness initiatives all have come as a result of policies supported by AASA’s leadership.

“In 1996, we were the first education organization to join with the Children’s Defense Fund’s ‘Stand Up for America’s Children,’” Houston says. “A year or two before that, Marian Wright Edelman was highly critical of superintendents, but we were able to transform her perspective in a way that other organizations had not done.”

Houston says that policy stance is one he is proudest of during his 14-year tenure.

“We were both praised and criticized by the far right and the far left on the same day, and it’s because we took a position and stood by it,” he says. “As an organization, we said there are things children can’t do for themselves, and we as adults must step in and help them.”

Just 18 months after Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana and Mississippi in the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, AASA’s leadership took another bold step. The 2007 convention was held in New Orleans, which was in the early stages of rebuilding its workforce and its economy after losing more than half of its population.

More than 5,000 members and vendors attended the convention, giving the struggling city a shot in the arm at a time when it desperately needed the help.

“We were one of the first professional organizations to return after that storm,” White says, “and we did it because we wanted to make a statement about our profession. We wanted to help Louisiana and New Orleans rebuild.”

Glenn Cook is a freelance education writer in Lorton, Va. E-mail: glenncook117@gmail.com. Twitter: @ourrealityshow


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