The tanking economy and its devastating effect on education budgets, as well as the freshly signed economic stimulus package that promises billions of dollars in new money for cash-strapped schools, dominated the conversations on Day One of the American Association of School Administrators’ annual conference in San Francisco.
“In times like this, it’s important to remember there have always been times like this,” said Carlos Garcia, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District. “We’ll get through it. We always do.”
Of course, the $106 billion pegged for education in President Obama’s economic stimulus plan is sure to help.
As the conference opened at the Moscone Convention Center Feb. 19, several featured speakers noted that, despite a gloomy fiscal outlook, the future is about to get a whole lot brighter for schools.
“For the first time in a long time, we got it right,” said opening keynote speaker Donna Brazille, a political consultant for the Democratic Party. “We elected a president [who] cares about all of us. We elected an education president.”
Both Brazille and AASA President Randy Collins spoke of the current fiscal climate as a huge challenge for educators. But both also said the current political climate offers an enormous opportunity to reinvest in, and reshape, education so that all kids can succeed, regardless of their abilities.
“This moment in history, this chance to make a real difference, might not come again” for a long time, Collins said. Brazille added that people across the nation “are hungry for change. …They’re eager to roll up their sleeves” and work with their local schools to bring about lasting reforms.
Both speakers, however, warned that school leaders can’t be complacent and expect this change will happen on its own.
“We know that all kids can learn, just not in the same way or at the same pace,” said Collins, who is also the superintendent of the Wallingford, Conn., school system. “We know that all kids can learn with a competent teacher in each classroom … and engaging content.” But “we must use our collective voices,” he said, to enlighten members of Congress to make sure they understand what school leaders need–and to continue to provide the resources necessary to achieve this vision for education.
As education leaders, “our voices matter,” he said.
Brazille made the same point in her speech.
“Education is one of the most important investments we can make” in the nation’s future, she said, noting that preventing just one high school dropout will save the federal government an estimated $200,000 in benefits over that person’s lifetime.
“We need people to go out there and talk about this [stimulus] plan,” she said, adding: “Don’t let the naysayers control the debate.”
Garcia also urged education leaders to take advantage of the current political climate, and the infusion of federal funding it has brought, to effect lasting educational change. “There cannot be social justice if people can’t get an equal education in America,” he exhorted.
Brazille ended her talk by noting she’s a firm believer that “you can create change where there’s none to be seen.”
There is “so much hope, so much energy–so many people willing to do the right thing,” she said. “This is our moment now–let’s seize it to serve a greater cause than ourselves.”
(Editor’s note: For more real-time coverage of this year’s AASA conference in San Francisco Feb. 19-21, visit the AASA Conference Information Center page at eSN Online: http://www.eschoolnews.com/conference-info/aasa.)