A Pathway for our next Generation of Public School Leaders

MariaOtt.jpgWhile we gear up to enter a new academic school year, we now know that a majority of our public school students live in poverty. According to the Southern Education Foundation, low-income students are now the majority. Based on these data, in my home state of California, 55 percent of the student population (four percentage points above the national average) lives in impoverished conditions.

Educators will tell you that in terms of academic achievement, children living below the poverty line are already a step behind more advantaged children before they enter school for the first time. We, as a nation, must find remedies to address this burning issue.

If we’re going to effectively prepare all of our children to be successful as adults and make solid contributions to American society, no matter what zip code they’re from, we must strengthen and support America’s field of public school administrators.

That’s why the USC Rossier School of Education is partnering with AASA, The School Superintendents Association, to create more pathways for underrepresented groups to become school district leaders. It’s an honor to work with AASA, an organization that for 150 years has been at the forefront of public school leadership.

Rossier has a long and successful history of preparing diverse leaders committed to urban education and who possess the competencies needed to address complex educational and social issues. The time could never be better to collaborate with AASA on this effort.

We share a commitment to diversify our leaders at the superintendent’s level. We also share a commitment to prepare these individuals to make a positive impact in the urban environment. The AASA-USC Urban Superintendents Academy is designed to prepare leaders who will successfully lead our nation’s most complex educational organization – the urban school district. With the rapidly changing demographics regarding our student population, our program is poised to develop public school leaders who can serve as change agents in the communities in which they live.

Look around at our urban school systems. The average tenure of an urban superintendent is about three years. It’s heartbreaking when you see districts go through cycles of change. The instability touches everybody in a district from the administrator level, to principals, to teachers, to parents and most of all, students. I was a superintendent for 14 years in two small urban districts in Los Angeles County, and served five years as the senior deputy superintendent in the Los Angeles County Unified School District. I saw first-hand how important it was to have continuity at the top, where effective leaders stay in a position long enough to create legacies that contribute to the success of their school districts and, equally as important, their communities.  

The USC Rossier model that will be used in the Academy is a remedy to create stability by building on its great success in online programs, offering live synchronous and asynchronous online courses. The program will include in-person immersion sessions and mentoring by local superintendents, wherever the student is based. The flexibility of the program provides participants who have busy schedules the ability to virtually connect with USC Rossier’s nationally recognized faculty who have served as successful superintendents. 

We encourage promising and passionate administrators to consider this opportunity. We also encourage administrators to designate top assistant superintendents or deputies who they believe have the potential to benefit from the program.

Our schools, communities and most of all, our students, deserve nothing less.

Superintendents and other administrators interested in participating in the program can contact Bernadine Futrell, AASA director, awards & collaborations at bfutrell@aasa.org. For more information about the AASA-USC Urban Superintendents Academy, visit the AASA and USC Rossier websites.  


Maria Ott is a Professor of Clinical Education at the USC Rossier School of Education. She can be contacted via email at mariaott@usc.edu.

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