Feature                                  Page 49

State Association Partnerships:

An Enduring Bond with Our State Affiliates

It was only three years after the birth of AASA in 1865 that the first state association of school superintendents came into being in Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter, the Massachusetts group assumed a bigger identity by becoming the New England Association of School Superintendents, an organization still affiliated with AASA.
Officers of state associations of school administrators who met in Chicago in 1966 during an annual AASA-sponsored conference that strengthened AASA's relationship with state affiliates. 

The formation of a state-level superintendents organization in Massachusetts didn’t capture the attention of the author of AASA’s first 100-year history. In fact, the relationship of AASA to any parallel professional groups in the states is barely mentioned. The narrative, “AASA: The Centennial Story,” distributed in 1965, refers to a breakthrough development in 1947 when the AASA Executive Committee authorized an annual meeting of the presidents of the state administrator associations to be held later that year.

Former AASA Executive Director Worth McClure, in a published interview a half dozen years later, called the decision “quite a daring recommendation, really, to spend $3,500 for a presidents conference out of a total budget at that time of only $60,000.” McClure said the governing body considered the allocation worthy “to strengthen the ties between the national and state administrator associations.”

Like-Minded Colleagues

Statewide superintendents organizations grew as members looked to connect with their like-minded colleagues. Just as AASA was a freestanding department within the National Education Association, it followed naturally that state administrator associations would be affiliated with their state teachers group. These relationships endured until the early ’70s when the administrator organizations parted ways with the teachers over the latter’s growing unionization.

By the 1960s, the state groups realized they needed more than the volunteer leadership by a superintendent or a small group of superintendents as an add-on to their regular responsibilities. Executive secretaries, typically retired superintendents, were hired to manage the state organizations. They knew little about association management and found a need to learn from each other.

This led to an informal creation of the Executive Secretaries of State Associations of School Administrators in 1961, according to “A History of the Association of State Executives and the Career Paths of State Execs,” produced by Jane Ann McDonald in September 1987 as her doctoral dissertation at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). Due to a series of typographical errors, the association’s name changed multiple times in the ensuing years. Their meeting agendas focused on the nuts and bolts of association management.

Break From Teachers

The relationship between AASA and the state associations grew in importance. In 1968, Jim Kirkpatrick was hired to oversee AASA’s federal legislative efforts. At the time, Kirkpatrick was the executive secretary of the Ohio association. Although not his primary function at AASA, he was influential in advancing the cause of state associations at AASA, according to McDonald’s study.

Throughout the 1960s, the executive secretaries often requested financial assistance from AASA. Until 1969, as the state groups started to disaffiliate from their teacher brethren, AASA turned a deaf ear to the aid requests before having a change of heart. AASA appointed a committee to consider any application for aid, with two criteria: (1) the executive secretary needed to be employed on at least a half-time basis, and (2) the state would have to make a genuine effort to support such a position. From 1969 through 1983, 25 state associations received assistance from AASA.

Finis Engleman, AASA’s executive secretary from 1956 to 1963, articulated the need for strong state associations in an interview for “AASA: The Centennial Story.” He said: “I will believe that our Association will develop fastest where lots of people are in places of leadership, and you have to have state associations to get that.”

Sorting Out Turf

As the state associations solidified their membership bases through more direct services and legislative advocacy in state capitals, a reversal of fortunes became apparent a decade later. AASA’s new executive director, Paul Houston, appealed to the state associations to reduce some financial strains on the national organization, and the state organizations responded accordingly, averting a potential financial crisis.

To further demonstrate the importance of this budding relationship, AASA in 1969 created a committee on state associations. The AASA staff member assigned to the committee was George Redfern, supported by an administrative intern, Ozzie Rose (later the state executive in Oregon). In a conversation between these two, Redfern observed that strengthening the state groups was important and something AASA should foster, but, he added, “I want to warn you, we are creating a monster. As they (the states) become stronger, the national is going to have to reassess what its role is in relationship to service for its members.”

It’s not surprising that as the state and national associations were trying to provide members with benefits and services, some “turf issues” occasionally would arise.

Perhaps the biggest area of contention showed up in the state block housing assignments for AASA’s national conference. Each association wanted to have all of their attending members based at the official conference hotel, typically adjacent to the convention center. No matter how much effort was put into finding a fair solution, the national and state associations could not agree on an acceptable formula for allocating hotel rooms in the conference host city, despite testing several distribution formulas.

A circus-like atmosphere prevailed at times, as some of the smaller states requested more conference hotel rooms than they needed so they could “swap” rooms with each other outside of the meeting. Large states thought small states were getting a better a deal on housing assignments, and the small states were convinced the larger states were given all the prime spaces.

“An attempt was made to ‘draw’ for hotels at the national convention because AASA could broker more reasonable rates,” recalls Rod Rice, executive director of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators from 1986 to 2000. “Well, some state associations soon learned they could do as well or even better in negotiations with hotels and utilize the comp rooms in their budgets. So the rivalry continued.”

In recent years, state block housing has been used by only a handful of state associations that are willing to assume financial responsibility for any unsold rooms within their block.

Marching Together

Given that most state association executives were former superintendents, it became readily apparent as the state groups expanded their missions and their staffing that a different skill set would be needed. To this end, Kirkpatrick designed a conference for the executives, focusing on effective association management practices and collaboration with AASA. This meeting was called “Running the Store,” and the first was held in Omaha, Neb., in December 1977. Seventeen associations were represented. The annual meeting continues to this day. The most recent, in Palm Springs, Calif., in December, focused on such matters as association management and advocacy techniques.

Colbert Cushing, who ran Colorado’s superintendent group, became in 1969 the first state executive to be appointed to fill a vacancy on the AASA Executive Committee. In 1976, AASA created an ex-officio position for a state association head on its executive governing board. John Wargo, immediate past president the Association of Secretaries of State Associations of School Administrators, was the first individual to serve in this capacity.

Eighteen years after its first informal meeting in 1961, the Association Executives of School Administrator Associations formally adopted a set of bylaws, along with a set of officers and member dues categories. What had begun as an informal gathering of a few state executive secretaries was now a formal organization of state association executive directors.

AASA and its state associations, working together, provide members with a plethora of services and benefits, immediate access to crucial information and support for the profession and public education in America.

C.J. Reid is an associate executive director of governance, membership and affiliate services at AASA. E-mail: creid@aasa.org

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