AASA’s National Superintendent of the Year Finalists Convene in Washington to Discuss Education Issues




The four finalists for 2017 National Superintendent of the Year fielded questions on their roles in influencing federal legislation on education, on the nominee for U.S. education secretary and what satisfactions they received from their challenging professional lives at a forum organized by AASA, The School Superintendents Association.

The hour-long program, conducted at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 14, brought together panelists Stewart McDonald of the Kodiak Island Borough School District in Kodiak, Alaska; Barbara Jenkins of the Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Fla.; James Merrill of the Wake County Public Schools in Raleigh, N.C.; and Matthew Utterback of the North Clackamas School District in Milwaukie, Ore. One of the four will be selected for the top honor on March 2 at AASA’s National Conference on Education in New Orleans, La.

The four represented the most extreme range of school systems – from Jenkins’ 203,000-student urban-suburban district in central Florida to McDonald’s island district of 14 schools, with nearly half the schools with more than two teachers, off the Alaskan coast.

The superintendents perhaps saved their most relishing responses for an audience question about what triggered their interest in moving into the top local leadership position in schooling.

Merrill, whose district includes students from 12 municipalities around Raleigh, described “a competitiveness in our DNA that pushes us to show what you got. Can I do it better?”

Jenkins said she gained inspiration for pursuing a superintendent’s job while a participant in the Broad Academy during visits with superintendents Arne Duncan in Chicago, Joel Klein in New York City and Arlene Ackerman in Philadelphia. “I’m a sucker for a challenge,” she said.

McDonald referenced his fascination with the big-picture view that a superintendency provides of a school system’s “inner workings” that one never gains at any other position in K-12 education.

Utterback told of attending a school board meeting as an assistant superintendent shortly after the resignation of his boss under trying financial circumstances. “I went to the board and raised my hand and said, ‘I’m ready to serve.”

Presiding over the forum was Denisa Superville, a staff writer at Education Week.

Co-sponsoring the National Superintendent of the Year program with AASA are Aramark and VALIC

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