AASA Urban Superintendents Academy: Preparing the Next Generation of Urban Leaders

August 29, 2023

Nine years ago, marked the birth of a program that has pulled together hundreds of aspiring educators to lead the nation’s urban school districts across the country. Today, AASA’s Urban Superintendents Academy—a program comprised of a partnership with Howard University’s School of Education and the Rossier School of Education from the University of Southern California, is a thriving enterprise ensuring participants are fully equipped for the challenges and opportunities of urban superintendent positions.

"Let the journey begin," said Shawn Joseph as he kicks off the 9th annual AASA Urban Superintendents Academy.

“Let the journey begin,” said Shawn Joseph to kick off the ninth annual Urban Superintendents Academy meeting on Friday, Aug. 18, on the campus of Howard University.

Joseph, an assistant professor at Howard and an academy co-leader, encouraged participants to be bold as they embark on a program that will bring the most effective and inspiring thought-leader practitioners to serve as instructors, mentors and presenters.

“America needs you right now,” said David R. Schuler, executive director of AASA. “Being an urban leader is not an easy task by any means. Our public school students, our communities and our democracy needs high-quality individuals to lead our public school districts. That’s why we are pleased to provide a program, a network, a connection, a family for you to work with and provide support for you as you lead urban school districts.”

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress,” said former superintendent Traci Davis, an academy co-leader. “What you are doing now will make a difference. You will have colleagues as you work with us. This is a family.”

Dawn Williams, dean of the Howard University School of Education, speaks to the power of belonging to the ninth Urban Academy cohort.

Dawn Williams, the current dean of Howard University’s School of Education, was a member of the group that met nearly a decade ago. “We are Cohort proud,” she said. “The roles of superintendents have changed over the years and are very visible to the American public. These are areas we want to make sure you are prepared for.

Featured speakers at the August event, entitled Bold Leadership³: Equity Through Innovation, included Mark Bedell, superintendent, Anne Arundel (Md.) County Public Schools; Mary Fertakis, philanthropy advisor; and Erin Jones, former assistant state superintendent for student achievement in Washington state.

The superintendents panel on urban leadership included Monifa Bellinger McKnight, Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools; Keith Simmons, Griffin-Spalding (Ga.) County School System; and Tony B. Washington, School District of Philadelphia (Pa.).

“These are very challenging times in public education, said Pedro Noguera, dean, USC Rossier School of Education. “This is not an easy time to be a leader. We want to make sure that you are positioned for focus that you understand what it takes to be successful.”

Nearly 90 educators attended the event (in-person and virtual). Specific goals of the program include:
  • Prepare participants to successfully acquire a position as an urban superintendent.
  • Address critical problems and issues faced by urban superintendents in a strategic and creative way.
  • Deal effectively and creatively with community relations and politics in the urban setting.
  • Become a strategic leader who consistently demonstrates critical reasoning, problem solving and creativity.
  • Learning how to work effectively with the board of education.
“Being an urban leader is not an easy task by any means. Our public school students, our communities and our democracy needs high-quality individuals to lead our public school districts.”

“It’s a real gift when you have the opportunity to lead on behalf of young people, parents and communities in which they live,” said Maria Ott, executive-in-residence, USC Rossier School of Education. “The impact you can make as a superintendent is beyond measure. Together, we are hoping to make an impact nationally by having leaders that have passion and the dedication needed to make an impact across the U.S.”

Ann Levett, AASA assistant executive director, shared a few thoughts on behalf of AASA Senior Executive Director Mort Sherman, who was part of the group that met nine years ago to launch the program but was unable to attend this event. “All of you know how much I would’ve loved to be with you today. We created this program to assure our urban leaders represent the very best in America.


The 9th annual AASA Urban Academy Cohort meeting was held on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Click here to view the AASA photo gallery from the ninth annual AASA Urban Superintendents Academy.

For more information, visit the AASA website. For questions, contact Sherman at msherman@aasa.org, or Jessica Gordon, program manager, Leadership Network, at jgordon@aasa.org.