Lifelong Learning: Reflections on the AASA National Superintendent Certification Program

Dr. Deena M. Paramo, Superintendent

Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District

                                                                          Palmer, Alaska                     

Paramo.jpgWhile the title of the present article is simple words commonly used as cliché in our field, they do ring true for administrators in many ways. It is we, administrators, whom must keep abreast of all the many changing facets in education from teaching and learning to budgets and finance---not to mention the most spoken about topic at the latest superintendent meeting…unfunded mandates. It is true we are all in the school business.  As superintendents it seems we have never left the “business.”  At age five most of us began our journey in public education as kindergarteners, and we are currently still engaged with public education (age reference purposefully left out).

Recently I had an opportunity through the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) to participate in the newly accredited program: The National Superintendent Certification Program. This was an opportunity to continue my lifelong learning.  In all honesty the “opportunity” was not jumped at immediately by this educator.  Having recently completed a doctoral program from the University of Oregon in 2006, I can honestly say I swore off “coursework” for a while.  Nonetheless, the advertising, top ranked presenters, and with a little push from leadership at home---I decided to jump in and apply.

I began the National Certification Program with 26 other fairly new superintendents (with less than 5 years superintendent experience) in a training center in Oceanside, California in July. With surprise, I was instantly engaged with leaders from around our country in similar conversations as those that we have right here at home. Sure we spoke of our humility as leaders yet our fierce resolve when it comes to seeking positive outcomes, we spoke of that 360 degree leadership that comes in all aspects of our lives from professional, personal, as well as spiritual, and we spoke of the many new curriculum matters in our future as well.  Nonetheless, the big surprise is that we, superintendents from California and Texas to Illinois and Rhode Island---we all were more similar in our public education plight than we were different.

When the superintendent from a Chicago district shared of his poorest kids struggling to meet the goals of his state’s standards due to a language barrier---I thought, Alaska has that too. In North Carolina districts are consolidating to save funds on expenses due to increased costs in benefits for teachers---I thought, Alaska has that too. When John Daisey, the superintendent of the second largest school district in the nation, Los Angeles Unified (750,000 students), personally shared that he struggles with the politics of his school board and the efforts to do the right things for students---I thought, Alaska has that too. 

While the presenters and professors of the courses were top-notch in their field from Houston, Texas to the City of New York, my take-away from the first of the four training sessions is quite simple… Alaskan educational leaders are not facing the current struggles in public education alone.  While we may be 3,000 miles apart from our peer in the lower 48, the work we do each day for kids is very similar to our counterparts across the country. 

Superintendents care that all students learn.  Superintendents want students to gain the skills and knowledge needed for the technological world we may know so little about. Superintendents desire our students to love to learn and to have the best experiences we can offer for a lifetime of happiness. While in our great state we often talk about how different our positions are in Bush and Urban Alaska, from my experience in the National Certificate Program, I choose our likeness as much more of a strength for which we can build the best educational system Alaska can provide the families and students no matter where they live. 

In summary, lifelong learning is not only warranted, but it is essential in our field. The job of the superintendent is a great one--- full of challenges as well as successes. Recently, AASA’s Fall Conference charged our districts’ educational leaders to think of unity as we move into the New Year. That unity has a whole new meaning as I work with educators from across the country on the same challenges of public education we are facing at home. Nevertheless, it is a job for which we, superintendents, together can influence to make the most positive impact on the children of our state. 

The National Superintendent Certification Program is two year National level AASA program in partnership with The SUPES Academy.  More information can be found at