Your Legacy Exists in the People

Type: Article
Topics: School Administrator Magazine

June 01, 2023

President's Corner

Larry Aronstein was my superintendent when I was assistant superintendent in a district in New York state. When he announced his retirement, I worried that all of the great work we had done bringing achievement to its highest level in decades would disappear with different leadership. He shared some words of wisdom that have stayed with me ever since: “Your legacy is in the people.” No truer words have ever been spoken.

As an educator and administrator, I believe the greatest achievement we can hope for is that the learning and the change or modernization of professional practice lives on when we leave. As professionals, we should be engaged in continuous learning and memorialize this practice as a professional obligation for ourselves and those in our organization. Without continuous learning, positive change will not happen. Without thoughtful change, we remain stagnant.

Progress and modernization reflect forward movement along a sometimes wavy or jagged line. We think, experiment, refine, reflect and move forward. This process is not haphazard and is not always clear or without error. Missing just one step could be counterproductive. Opportunity and an open-mindedness to learn are required.

Sometimes we make the mistake of using language that can cause our systems to shut down. The terms “professional development” and “training,” for instance, imply a less than adequate present and a sense of failure instead of a need to pivot to “different” — not better or more, just different. There is no judgment or negativity.

When I learned to drive a stick shift, it wasn’t better, just different. When I learned a new language, it wasn’t better, just different. Education as a profession is reluctant to be different. Imagine if the field of medicine or engineering hesitated to learn and develop, to be different. There would be no advancements. Language matters. Doing something differently matters.

The “why” also matters. Demonstrating the need and the why, and modeling inclusive professional learning toward a desired goal set the stage for collaboration, trust and understanding. In Baldwin, N.Y., we have an initiative called Baldwin 2035, where thought leaders from around the district and community gather together to learn. We think, experiment, refine, reflect and move forward. We do this publicly and share it with the broader community. We think out loud and learn together.

While not flawless, this approach recognizes the need and desire to be inclusive, to experiment and refine, and to accept that we will make mistakes along the way. Recognizing those mistakes, allowing for flexibility and being able to pivot and correct are essential for progress.

If the process works, the organization will be a living, breathing system capable of taking care of itself. The superintendent as learner, leader and visionary will nourish that system and all the people in it.

As education leaders, we have the right and responsibility to learn alongside and independently of the people in our systems. We must take the time, have the desire and believe in the need for continuous learning and growth. We are obligated to set the standard, provide the necessary resources and nourish a culture that facilitates this continuous cycle of learning for ourselves and those we lead.

A healthy school system works in conjunction with but independent of external forces. We can set our sights on creating a school system that makes changes that are thoughtful, evolutionary, supportive, compassionate and empathetic. That is our legacy. Our legacy will live on because your legacy is in the people.

It has been my absolute pleasure to represent superintendents across our country as president of AASA. I hope my legacy lives on in you.

Shari Camhi is AASA president in 2022-23. @BaldwinUFSD