Managing the enterprise can be a challenge to a superintendent who has no business experience.

Learning Leadership column, Feb. 2013 edition of eSchool News—The American Association of School Administrators is about to reinvent itself.

Founded in 1865, the year when the Civil War came to an end and Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, it is one of the oldest education associations in our nation. In 2015, we will be celebrating our 15oth anniversary.

AASA enjoys a proud heritage, but recent surveys of our members indicate that the association has to refocus in order to better serve our 21st-century system leaders. To begin with, the association’s name does not clearly define whom it is intended to serve.

In truth, AASA has always been a school superintendents’ association, but you can’t tell that by the name. When I introduce myself as the executive director, people not familiar with the organization will always ask me, “And whom, exactly, do you represent?”

We represent our school system leaders, the school superintendents, and we are pleased to include in our membership those who aspire to the superintendency—as well as those in higher education who train and prepare them. At our National Conference on Education, to be held this month in Los Angeles, we will be unveiling a new logo with a new tagline: AASA, The School Superintendents Association.

This is not just a facelift. Over the past few years, AASA has undergone a transformation. We moved our headquarters from Arlington to Alexandria, Va., to share a building with the National Association of Elementary School Principals. The move served two purposes: It provided significant relief to our facilities budget, and it forged an alliance with NAESP in our advocacy efforts and other issues of mutual concern. We referred to the move as a “functional consolidation,” wherein the two associations maintain total independence but benefit from shared facilities and staff, when appropriate.

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

AASA’s advocacy efforts have expanded, and we are a presence in the halls of Congress. This past year, we have assumed a leadership role in influencing proposed legislation that would affect restraint and seclusion practices in our schools, a topic that other organizations have not been willing to tackle. We have worked with both the House and the Senate to shape the language in bills that would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We urged Education Secretary Arne Duncan to provide regulatory relief from the requirements of No Child Left Behind and expressed our disappointment when the waiver process was introduced as yet another competitive grant—leaving thousands of school districts to continue to suffer under NCLB. We look forward to the current legislative session and hope that ESEA reauthorization will bubble up in a Congress consumed with fiscal and partisan issues.

AASA also has improved communications with its membership. Our website ( is replete with resources in all areas affecting school system leaders.

For instance, our “AASA Connect” is full of success stories and provides an opportunity for superintendents around the country to post their blogs or share successes with their colleagues. The “Ethical Educator” is a regular feature where a panel of experts provides sage advice on some of the thorny ethical issues that school administrators confront. “AASA Radio” broadcasts interviews with our most prominent thought leaders, and our videos bring you the thinking of our superintendents in the news.

Our award-winning magazine, The School Administrator, with a circulation of 27,000, now also is delivered to the central office administrators of our superintendent members. All the articles in The School Administrator can be accessed online as well, making it one of the most frequented pages on our website.

There are two exciting initiatives that we can look forward to this year: the unveiling of a national vision statement from our superintendents and the launching of a National Superintendent Certification Program.

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).