With a focus on harnessing the power of leadership to improve the quality of public education in the nation’s schools, thousands of school administrators from across the nation converged on the San Diego Convention Center Feb. 23, 2006, for the start of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) 2006 National Conference on Education.

Calling the nation’s children “our most important resource,” AASA President David Gee said it’s time for school administrators everywhere to “stand up for public education–” and themselves.

In an era where federal education spending seems poised to suffer its first cut in a decade and school leaders increasingly find themselves under fire for the academic deficiencies of students, Gee said it’s imperative that school administrators stand firm in their commitment to education and work together to “build bridges” that will help prepare students for the evolving challenges of life in the 21st century.

When he began his term as president of AASA little more than one year ago, Gee said, he looked forward to heading to Washington and having an opportunity to work with national leaders and policy-makers in efforts to bolster the quality of education in the nation’s public schools.

What he found instead was resistance.

Lashing out at lawmakers on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, Gee said school administrators have become the scapegoats for a floundering school system–one where educators have been forced under sweeping reforms such as the federal No Child Left Behind Act to do more with less.

“I’ve come to learn that cooperation and teamwork is simply not the case [in Washington],” he said of his experience working with lawmakers. “It’s either their way or the highway. I’m tired of [politicians] quoting inaccurate details … and distorting the facts. And I’m irate that my friends and colleagues are subject to this sort of abuse.”

Accusing politicians of unfairly blaming school administrators for the deficiencies of the nation’s school children while refusing to provide the funding necessary to meet the demands of an education system anchored in accountability and fairness, Gee said, school administrators have but one choice: to overcome.

And its fight, he says, that cannot be won without the presence of strong leadership, from the superintendent’s office to the classroom.

Joining Gee in his call for stronger leadership in the nation’s schools, Donald Knauss, president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola North America, took the stage to encourage educators to keep working in the face of adversity.

Knauss outlined five principles of leadership he believes ring just as true in the business of education as they do in the boardrooms of corporate America: integrity, curiosity, optimism, compassion, and humanity.

Like all leaders, Knauss said, superintendents must harness their abilities, and the abilities of others, to create a culture of confidence, which ultimately, leads to success.

“These are very challenging times,” Knauss told the audience, adding that even in the face of tough budget scenarios, increased regulation, and scrutiny from Washington, leadership can “make the difference.”

“As leaders,” Knauss said, “we have a responsibility to drive optimism into our organizations–to drive optimism into our children.”

Relating the work of school superintendents to the contributions of political, cultural, and scientific icons from Charles de Gaulle and Dwight Eisenhower to Louis Armstrong and Marie Curie, Knauss pleaded with school administrators to “walk the walk” and “talk the talk.”

Remember, he said, “world-class leaders are also world-class learners.”

The key is to stay positive, added Gee.

“The legacy of every good school administrator should be that they leave their schools a little bit better than when they found them,” he said.

The AASA conference runs through Feb. 26. Be to check back with eSchool News throughout the weekend for more live coverage from San Diego.


American Association of School Administrators