Our Imperative for 2025

Type: Article
Topics: District & School Operations, Equity, School Administrator Magazine

March 01, 2022

Executive Perspective

It was at AASA's National Conference on Education over two years ago in San Diego that our friend Bill Daggett served as a General Session keynoter. From the stage, he looked out over the audience and stated if there ever was to be a total redesign of education, AASA would be the only organization capable of leading the effort.

School system leaders, he suggested, are in the best position to bring about systemic change.

I took his message to heart. A year later, I invited him to co-chair the National Commission on Student-Centered, Equity-Focused Education. We invited thought leaders from education, business and philanthropy and challenged them to be bold in their recommendations to redesign American education. Their report, “An American Imperative: A New Vision of Public Schools,” does that, but we did not want this to be yet another report that would sit on shelves.

We wanted the report to be actionable. We wanted to see the report’s recommendations applied in school districts to prove that what the report recommends can be accomplished. We also wanted to invite districts interested in significant change and willing to learn from colleagues.

A Disruptive Process

AASA launched the Learning 2025 initiative with the aspirational goal that the commission’s recommendations will be in place in thousands of school districts by 2025. We want this to be a disruptive process where the success of several thousand systems will lead to the remaining systems quickly following suit. We are emulating a disruptive model we have seen in communications, music, online shopping and elsewhere. To date, more than 100 school districts are part of Learning 2025, and we expect another hundred to join by the end of the school year.

One of the key recommendations is to focus on the whole child. Although we pay lip service to the social and emotional needs of children, the reality is that academic achievement is what we hold schools accountable for. Yet a substantial amount of research indicates that learning will not take place when a child is hungry, sick, abused, homeless, bullied or disengaged.

Calvin Watts, the new superintendent in Gwinnett County, Ga., a Learning 2025 district, has engaged the community through his “Look, Listen and Learn” tour. He believes in reaching and teaching all students to ensure they are ready for their future — not our past. He has promised that Gwinnett County educators will know each student by name, by face and by their individual strengths and needs. His promise is aligned with personalized learning, another Learning 2025 goal.

I asked him how he intends to accomplish this in a system of 180,000 students. He has begun by developing a meaningful, two-way communication strategy and feedback loop that commences with his message to school-based and district-level educators who then engage with teachers and building-level administrators to ensure that both successes and concerns are relayed back to him and his team. He prioritizes being accessible and frequently engages in community and school activities. Watts embraces future-driven education and accepts the fact that, while not all will agree with his decisions, they always will know why his decisions are being made.

Redefining Success

John Malloy, superintendent of the San Ramon Valley School District in California and a Learning 2025 participant, views the pandemic as an opportunity to transform his community and sees the commission’s report as supporting the changes he wants to bring about. His district already is viewed as exemplary on many dimensions, so why change? It depends on how you define success.

Although the numbers are small, there are students in San Ramon who are not succeeding. He wants to identify them and determine what they need. He sees this as the equity work. There are also academically successful students with social and emotional issues. Their needs also must be addressed.

Then there is the matter of tradition. How do we broaden the definition of success beyond the academics? Like Watts, Malloy recognizes he will need to engage his community in the process of change. The traditional metrics that gauge academic success need to be enhanced to include non-academic measures.

Does a postsecondary education provide the skills that lead to a successful career? These are the challenging questions facing a culture that emphasizes academic success. The commission’s report and its actionable component through the Learning 2025 framework goes beyond that in focusing on the whole child.