As my wife Susie and I drove Pacific Coast Highway 1 today, I couldn’t help but feel rejuvenated, inspired and more motivated than ever to be me. It wasn’t because of the sunshine and the ocean breeze, though I freely admit that always helps. I had the pleasure of spending time the past few days at AASA with some of the country’s finest leaders. These people aren’t just educators. As Matt Miller, Lakota superintendent puts it, they are my tribe. Matt’s a leading member of the League of Innovative Schools, and Graham is a proud member from Ohio as well. This national network of over 100 districts is pushing boundaries, promoting innovative thinking and experimenting with collaborative projects to change public education for the better. Matt is respected by so many precisely because he is willing to ask the question most leaders don’t: “What are we waiting for?” His session Friday was another testament to his mission to help children.
The conversation I held with leader Paul Imhoff, Ohio’s 2018 Superintendent of the Year and a standing member of AASA’s Leadership Committee, gave me plenty to reflect on. Paul recounted a story about a community member once urging him to never apologize when one finds oneself in a position to ask for school funding. “What’s at stake is the future of children in that community. Why would anyone apologize for that?” Sage commentary from a man who has led three districts with integrity and passion for years, and who recently helped lead Upper Arlington to one of the four largest bond issue victories in Ohio funding history.
I was struck by the heart and enthusiasm of the leader I met from Highland Park, Texas—Mrs. LaManda Mallard, the problem and solutions director there. I had never heard of such a title! When she explained her work, it made total sense. Her title is expansive and she does lots of things, but it is also clear and to the point. This district knows who they can count on directly when issues arise!
L.A. has many issues that stick out like sore thumbs when juxtaposed against Sunset Boulevard: homelessness; rampant garbage issues; water quality; and erosion. The concrete jungle can be at once humbling and quixotic. As we drove through my childhood suburbs such as Hawthorne and Gardena today, on our way to the beautiful beaches surrounding us, I was also excited to see new building development occurring everywhere—tons of new school buildings and environmentally friendly policies in many places. Protecting our country’s infrastructure and beauty is vital for a strong economy now and in the future. It gave me hope for all of us.
One thing is for sure: if much of our country reflects the population and economy of California, we are as strong as ever precisely because of the diverse populations that comprise us as Americans. We met several small business owners this week—from restaurant owners to Uber drivers—and they all have one thing in common: the American dream. Much like the featured speaker today, former Major League pitcher Jim Abbott, these Americans understand how to ADAPT better than most. That’s worth something.
If there is one thing about leadership I’ve learned through 20 sessions and several key conversations this week in Cali, it’s that education leaders across America are committed to adapting, to stretching themselves, growing and learning continuously, and certainly unafraid to champion children and public education. All of them want to change America for the better. That’s hopeful. I’m honored to work with this #NCE19 tribe. Thanks for another great conference. Sunset in Santa Monica is calling …