July 19, 2016

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Legislative Advocacy Conference from a First-Timer's Perspective

I am Deanna Atkins, AASA’s advocacy and communications specialist. In this role, I split my time between the communications and advocacy departments, and I was on site for last week’s legislative advocacy conference. As I expand my work with the policy and advocacy team, I shadowed a handful of superintendents as they lobbied on Capitol Hill as part of the conference, to share their perspectives and round out our coverage of the event.

While my task at hand was to tag along with superintendents who are new to the conference, it’s also important to note that this was my first Legislative Advocacy Conference as well – and I could not have dreamed up a better time.

Being among 200 school system leaders who traveled from all across the country to the nation’s capital all to be a part of three jam-packed days of panel discussions, meetings on Capitol Hill, and presentations from members of Congress was an empowering feeling – and it’s no wonder why the agenda included a few receptions. They were well deserved by all!

The conference took place July 12-14 at the Marriott Metro Center in Washington, D.C. Presented in partnership by AASA and the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO), and sponsored by AXA, the conference was highly regarded among both veteran and first-time attendees. 

“The conference [met] my expectations and being able to meet several colleagues from across the nation was a highlight,” said Randy Russell, superintendent, Freeman School District 358 (Wash.) and AASA Governing Board member. “You can always learn from others and perspective is an important piece when thinking about how our issues in Washington compare with the issues across the U.S.”

While Day No. 1 of the conference was filled with panel discussions on hot topics from ESSA implementation to Perkins & Career Technical Education, Day No. 2 truly asked the most of attendees as they planned ahead to meet with their Congressional delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to discuss their respective districts' needs and priorities.

Conference rookie Alicia Henderson, superintendent, Bellevue Union School District (Calif.), had not previously lobbied at the Hill, but she came prepared with three meetings scheduled – all of which she handled exceptionally well.

“Three meetings were a comfortable amount,” said Henderson. “The best meeting was my first meeting with Representative Mike Thompson. I appreciated being able to talk about my district with him because it felt like he really cared.”

“I also appreciated meeting in Senator Feinstein’s office because I liked having my colleagues there with me. Even though the three of us had just met, it was great to have a unified voice – we were all on the same page,” said Henderson.

When attending meetings on the Hill, many superintendents identified attendees in their states and agreed to meet with representatives as a group, instead of flying solo. In fact, a team of Michigan superintendents had 11 meetings on the Hill, which is a pretty incredible amount.

AASA Governing Board member and Superintendent of Westwood Community School District (Mich.) Sue Carnell also attended the conference for the first time and said the overall conference was “better than expected.”

With the highlight of conference being the Hill visits for Carnell, her advice to herself for next year is to “be a little more vocal. I mostly observed this time.”

Echoing that, superintendent Russell said, “The advice I would give to a first-time attendee is to connect and attend with someone - like Michelle and Frank - they were great mentors and really helped me maximize what the conference had to offer!”

“Next year will be another great opportunity to learn even more and be better connected with national issues and trends,” said Russell.

You can learn more about AASA’s Legislative Advocacy Conference and view materials shared during the conference here. I would also encourage you to check out the conference Storify, which highlights all of the dialogue that took place on Twitter. 

Lastly, a sincere "thank you" to all of the conference attendees who allowed me to be a part of their experiences. I look forward to seeing you all again next year!

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