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Calm Pragmatism Defines AASA’s Incoming President

 Schuler

 David Schuler

To Superintendent David Schuler, the decision last May to withdraw his school district from the federal school lunch program was simply logical.

Many of the students in Township High School District 214 in Chicago’s northwestern suburbs weren’t eating the food the district was making based on strict national nutrition standards. More and more students on the open campus were just walking across the street for fast food.

Schuler says he wasn’t trying to make any larger point with the move, but he and his school board quickly found themselves in the news media spotlight, fielding calls from all over the country. “We took a lot of heat from all sides of the aisle,” he says.

For Schuler, who has led the 12,300-student district in Arlington Heights, Ill., since 2005, the decision was just another in a series of carefully thought-out moves he has made during his tenure, school board President Bill Dussling says.

“It certainly wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction,” he says. “He just has an even management style that creates confidence that he really knows what he’s doing.”

Schuler, 44, plans to bring the same calm, pragmatic approach to the additional post he will assume in July as president of AASA, The School Superintendents Association. He says he wants the organization, which he calls “the profession’s innovative thought leader,” to focus relentlessly on big issues like poverty, waivers from federal requirements and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

On a more personal level, Schuler, who started his first superintendency at age 29 in Marshall, Wis., says he would advise any superintendent in his or her first five years on the job to apply to AASA’s superintendent certification program. He says he would have loved a toolkit for new superintendents when he was starting out — especially one that focused on building relationships with school board members, key community stakeholders and staff.

Meanwhile, he will continue managing innovation in District 214, which includes six traditional high schools and four alternative schools. One of the traditional schools houses what Schuler believes was the first nanotech lab in an American high school. As part of a major technology push, the district has equipped about three-quarters of its students with iPads, with the rest likely to receive them next year. The iPads — which are issued only after teachers have developed plans to use them effectively — have spurred some remarkable changes, Schuler says, including “tons more out-of-school interaction between students and teachers.”

Schuler grew up in a middle-class family in Clintonville, Wis., watching his mother, an English and home economics teacher, grade papers at the kitchen table. A formative moment came when he attended Badger Boys State, a weeklong summer retreat for hundreds of rising high school seniors held at Ripon College. He arrived there as a self-described “sheepish 17-year-old” and left confident enough to run for class president in his senior year.

He is now vice president of the sponsoring organization’s board of directors and has returned annually for the past 27 years, overseeing his own group of about 100 students and six counselors.

Boys State’s focus on letting all voices be heard stays with him when he returns to his school district, he says. He holds office hours twice a year in each school, inviting all visitors to drop by for conversation.

Paul Riede is a journalism instructor at Cazenovia College in Cazenovia, N.Y. E-mail:hoffried@twcny.rr.com

BIO STATS: David Schuler

Currently: superintendent, Township High School District 214, Arlington Heights, Ill.

Previously: superintendent, Stevens Point, Wis.

Age: 44

Greatest influence on career: Sarah Jerome, a former superintendent in a neighboring community, was an incredible role model as I transitioned into the superintendency.

Best professional day: Each year’s graduation celebrations. There is nothing better than seeing the smiles and tears on the faces of students and their parents.

Books at bedside: The New Geography of Jobs by Enrico Moretti; District Leadership That Works by Robert Marzano and Timothy Waters; and Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

Biggest blooper: After five years as a superintendent in Wisconsin, I blew the decision on my first potential snow day in the Chicago suburbs. The snow was forecast to let up during the morning. It didn’t. Buses and students were already on their slow, slow trek to school. More than 100 phone calls and 500 e-mails followed.

Why I’m an AASA member: Opportunities to network with colleagues across the U.S. and our superintendent colleagues in Canada.

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