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Executive Perspective                Page 74

Privileged to Follow in Legendary Footsteps

 

 Daniel Domenech

 

In preparing for the celebration of AASA’s 150th anniversary, I read the copy of “AASA, The Centennial Story,” written by Arthur Rice in 1964, which sits on the bookshelf behind my desk. What a fascinating read. In this column, I draw liberally from the information provided by Rice, a professor of education at Indiana University.

It was on Aug. 15, 1865, in Harrisburg, Pa., at a meeting of the National Teachers Association, that a group of superintendents created the National Association of School Superintendents. Earlier that year, the Civil War had come to an end and President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated. Six months later, in February, the group held its first convention in Washington, D.C. Nine state superintendents and 20 city superintendents attended.

Early Advocacy

It is clear, from the very beginning, advocacy at the national level would be a key mission of the newly formed organization. At the 1877 conference, the superintendents resolved: “We earnestly recommend that Congress devise some appropriate Constitutional means for aiding pecuniarily the educational work, especially in those sections of the country that are surrounded by difficulties arising from ignorance and prejudice, and that such pecuniary aid be distributed pro rata on the basis of the illiteracy of the several states.”

It was noted in the chronicles that the resolution had little effect on Congress. (Some things never change.)

Here is another resolution that could very well be of recent vintage: “The public schools should be absolutely free from the domination of those who would prostitute them to political and personal ends.”

That was from the organization’s 1895 conference. Some 120 years later, we continue to fight the attempts of those who would diminish public education for private gain.

Eight at the Top

Paul Salmon was the first AASA executive director I ever met. I had heard him speak at events in New York. Little did I envision then that someday I would become the executive director of AASA.

I am only the eighth executive director (or executive secretary as the position was known in earlier years) in AASA’s history. In 1870, the National Association of School Superintendents, along with the American Normal School Association, merged with the National Teachers Association to create the National Education Association. Within NEA, the Department of Superintendence was formed.

For years, superintendents were elected to preside over NEA. Birdsey Northrop, who had been one of the founders and first president of the National Association of School Superintendents, played a key role in the merger to form NEA, and he became NEA president in 1873.

In 1921, Sherwood Dodge Shankland became the first executive secretary of the NEA’s Department of Superintendence. Eventually, administrators sought independence from the NEA and, in 1937, at the annual convention in New Orleans, the administrators voted to break away and become the American Association of School Administrators.

Shankland held the office for 25 years, which to date makes him the longest-serving AASA executive.

Worth McClure, who had been Seattle’s superintendent, took over in 1946, serving for 10 years. Connecticut’s education commissioner, Finis Engleman, who served until 1963, followed him. St. Paul, Minn., Superintendent Forest Conner then served until 1971. During those years, AASA experienced significant growth, reaching 16,635 members in 1964.

Paul Salmon took over in 1971. I was with him at a Long Island conference just a week prior to his untimely and tragic death in a Dallas plane crash in 1985. I had the pleasure of working with his successor, Richard Miller, during my years serving on various AASA committees. Paul Houston was appointed executive director the same year I was elected to the Executive Committee and served during my tenure as AASA president.

An Historic Mission

When the Executive Committee offered me the opportunity to succeed Paul upon his retirement, I was eager to accept and follow in the footsteps of legendary figures. AASA has a long and proud history and has played a significant role in the early development of our public school system, and the association continues to be a force in shaping education policy.

We may never see the membership numbers we experienced in the ’60s because the number of superintendents continues to decline and there are so many more organizations today that did not exist back then. Nevertheless, AASA today is a vibrant organization that remains the voice of the superintendent in the nation’s capital and more than ever serves as the voice for the many children who would be unheard if not for us. I am AASA proud.

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

 

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