National Superintendent of the Year® Finalists Discuss Top-of-Mind Leadership Issues at Panel Briefing in Washington, D.C.

January 25, 2024

American Rescue Plan funding, college & career readiness, the educator shortage and legislative advocacy were among key topics covered by AASA’s 2024 National Superintendent of the Year® Finalists as they reflected on recent challenges, opportunities and lessons learned.

Education Week’s Caitlynn Peetz moderated the panel which was held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. before a packed audience that included AASA leadership and staff, local advocates of public education and education media.

The four finalists, announced December 18, are:

“We knew we’d have to do something different. I did not want to take it and spend it in a way that we always spent our money, said Gothard, when he learned that his district would receive $206.9 million in American Rescue Plan funding.

“It should not take a pandemic or a referendum to accelerate learning,” said Gothard. Saint Paul Public Schools created “What I Need Now (WINN),” a strategy to escalate literacy throughout the district. More than 80 reading and spelling teachers were hired with positive results. “It’s the first PD I’ve been exposed to that I hadn’t received one complaint from a staff member saying, ‘Why are we doing this,’” said Gothard.


“We have a saying at Contoocook Valley School District,” said Saunders. “All means all. Our education system has to fit every student.”

She added, “College and career readiness is a cornerstone of our curriculum and philosophy. Our goal is to make sure that students can do whatever they want to after graduation, whether it’s one year after, two years or five years. We want to make sure they have the prerequisite skills they need to be successful.”


On the issue of advocacy, Williams was quick to point out, “If your feet are not under the table, you might not be on the menu,” pointing out the vital importance for school district leaders to serve as strong advocates when working with state and local legislators on behalf of the students they serve.

“One of the biggest things in advocacy as a superintendent is building relationships,” said Williams. “We can’t wait for the legislative sessions to start to build the relationships. We need to be educating (policymakers) them all year round. Advocacy is not an individual sport but a team sport.

Added Salazar-Zamora, “This issue is really important now more than ever before. One size does not fit all. We are not Cinderella. It’s important to look at what your district needs, find our voices and use our voices. We need to educate our parents. What does your community understand and embrace. We need to continue to share the great stories.”

AASA’s Redefining Ready! Cohort: Participants will learn about the new research-based college and career readiness indicators, learn how to implement winning strategies for redefining student success in their districts and will be part of a national movement impacting policy, legislation and practice. 

AASA advocates for equitable access to the highest quality public education for all students.

The goal of AASA advocacy is to influence federal education policy and legislation through the collective efforts of AASA members across the country.


Co-sponsored by AASA, Corebridge Financial (formerly known as AIG Life & Retirement) and First Student, the 2024 National Superintendent of the Year® will be announced during AASA’s National Conference on Education, Feb. 15, 2024, in San Diego, Calif.

Click here to learn more and to access a list of the AASA 2024 State Superintendents of the Year. For more information about the program, contact Jennifer Rooney, AASA senior director, meetings and awards, at