It seems to us that the “reformers” outside the education establishment have gained the upper hand with the public and the media. Too often, superintendents find themselves reacting to the reform ideas that those outside of education pose. We need to be more proactive than reactive.
For several years now, a number of our state associations have engaged their membership in the creation of a vision of what education should look like in their state. Texas, Georgia, and Connecticut are just three examples of states with vision statements that have been widely circulated and—in Texas and Connecticut, at least—have gained some traction in affecting education policy.
We need to do that at the national level. We need to put forth a vision of what our nation’s schools should look like and use it to influence the administration’s directives and the laws passed by Congress. Rather than reinvent the wheel, our vision statement will draw from the work done by the states and by other groups that have diligently collected the thinking of our superintendents.
A National Superintendent Certification Program is an idea whose time has come. I am proud to have held the post of superintendent for 27 years in New York and Virginia, but as I note the demands on my colleagues today, I have no doubt that the superintendency has become one of the most difficult and complex jobs in America. The political and economic pressures of the job are exacerbated by growing intrusion into local control and a prevailing attitude that educators do not have the solutions and indeed are part of the problem. The AASA certification program will focus on sharpening the skills that successful superintendents acknowledge are needed to thrive on the job. High on the list are business skills, board-superintendent relations, and crisis management.
For more columns from Dan Domenech on school district leadership, see:
What U.S. schools can learn from Russia
Why are women so underrepresented in educational leadership?
How to achieve true educational transformation
The school district is often the biggest “business” in the community it serves, managing the largest budget and supervising the greatest number of employees. Managing the enterprise can be a challenge to a superintendent who has no business experience. The growth in the number of school boards that hire business and military leaders to run school systems is a reflection of the concern these boards have that a traditional educator will not be able to do the job. Yet the superintendent’s position was created to be the community’s educational leader, not the CEO of its schools. Times have changed, and clearly today the superintendent must be both. Our certification program will partner with major corporations that will allocate space in their corporate executive training programs for school superintendents.
Another component of the program will be an online simulation exercise designed to sharpen the skills needed to cope with the myriad issues that come across the superintendent’s desk. We will be collaborating with the University of Pennsylvania on that aspect of the program.
The third component will be more traditional forums and seminars with colleagues, fostering a community of learning where participants will exchange ideas and be exposed to the latest practices and innovations. The certificate will proclaim that the holder has undergone experiences that will better enable him or her to succeed as a superintendent of schools.
We are the new AASA, changing to better serve our members and to be a leading advocate on behalf of the children in our schools.
Daniel A. Domenech is executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA).