The calendar has flipped to February, which means the National Conference on Education is right around the corner. This is the heart of the winter season in Massachusetts, which started with a roar with three snow days in December; luckily we have had a mild January and based on Punxsutawney Phil, we are headed for an early spring. You are probably thinking, “Wow! This review of the winter weather so far in Massachusetts is both edge-of-your-seat exciting and wildly interesting…..” The snow day call is just one of the many decisions and issues (albeit a relatively minor one) that superintendents face on a daily basis. The issues, as you know, range from budget, enrollment, legal challenges, achievement gaps, supporting a positive school culture, recruiting and retaining high-quality faculty and staff, and many others (ultimately supporting the growth and learning of all of our students).
I am looking forward to the National Superintendent Conference in San Diego for several reasons. First, the weather in February is significantly better in southern California than Massachusetts. This is also a chance to reconnect with colleagues from across the country to discuss current challenges; learn about new programs or innovative ideas; and simply share funny stories. I encourage every superintendent, assistant superintendent and central office department heads to take advantage of the rare opportunity to meet and dialogue with colleagues from other parts of the country and from different cultural and educational contexts. Over the years, I have met many colleagues who I was able to collaborate with and share ideas. This year’s theme of the Personalization of Learning is particularly relevant — we are working to build more choice and voice for students across our district through the use of technology, Early College programming, career-focused pathways such as hospitality and tourism management, business and banking and building trades, and the development and use of performance assessments. We are just scratching the surface here and plan to continue to expand these efforts.
There is a great deal of content that is relevant to the work we are doing that is focused on the implementation of deeper learning for all students, the connections between equity and access and college and career readiness, and strategies to recruit culturally and linguistically diverse educators. Our district is growing and our demographics have changed dramatically over the last several years with our EL population growing by 349 percent. I am interested in hearing from district leaders who have experienced this type of growth and change and how they have addressed staffing needs, school culture shifts and supporting a rising percentage of students facing the immense challenges of poverty.
The general sessions have outstanding presenters including David Brooks, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Mawi Asgedom. I am particularly excited to hear David Brooks — although I do not always agree with him, I find his work thought-provoking. The thought leader sessions include some friends and colleagues of mine, including David Baugh from Pennsylvania. I am particularly interested in hearing “The Atlanta Public Schools Story: High Stakes Testing, Poverty, and Race: A Cautionary Tale.” We are currently engaging in a great deal of work with the Massachusetts Consortium of Innovative Educational Assessment to support some better ways to focus on deeper learning through performance assessments and measuring school quality beyond just standardized tests. This presentation sounds like a nice follow up to David Berliner’s presentation last year.
I look forward to sharing my experience at this year’s conference. Safe travels and enjoy the 2020 AASA National Conference on Education!