While AASA has weathered the past year with aplomb, the real test of the association is how it can support the increasingly politicized and pressure-packed world of its superintendent members on the front lines of a divided nation.
That was an overriding message of Executive Director Daniel Domenech’s remarks to the AASA Governing Board Wednesday during his annual state-of-the-association speech. It came one day before the launch of the 2022 National Conference on Education in Nashville.
In his 45-minute presentation, Domenech pointed to various ways AASA has succeeded beyond expectations as a professional association during the past year and related how those accomplishments were meant to serve the needs of a beleaguered professional field.
“No question, this past two years has been the worst in terms of what you’ve faced,” he told the nearly 120 delegates of the Governing Board at the Omni Hotel.
As evidence of the direct support of education leaders in need, Domenech pointed to the rapid growth of AASA’s professional development cohorts, not just for those already in the superintendency but for many others aspiring to the top roles. About 140 of the most experienced school system leaders have been serving as instructors, coaches and mentors for the programs that comprise the AASA Learning Network.
What began as a single superintendent certification program seven years ago now comprises more than 35 professional development cohorts involving more than 2,000 registered participants. Several cohorts focus on special interests, such as personalized learning and early childhood education.
Holding out special promise for advancing systemic reform is AASA’s Learning 2025, a movement borne from a national commission that now is working with about 120 demonstration school districts to advance what Domenech called “a disruptive process” for how schooling takes place. The association will convene many of those districts at a summit in Washington, D.C., June 28-30.
More personal support is being delivered by the association’s Live Well, Lead Well initiative inspired by President Paul Imhoff, superintendent in Upper Arlington, Ohio. It includes a Health & Wellness booth in the conference exhibit hall that among other things will host therapy dogs and a massage station.
Domenech said he expected the attention to personal wellness of school leaders to resonate well beyond this year.
“Stress is part of the job, but physical threats are a whole different ballgame,” he said, pointing to need for police protection at school board meetings and superintendents’ personal residences. “So many of our best leaders are walking away.” A few have shared suicidal thoughts with him.
The organization’s work of the past year has been fueled by a strong financial performance. The attendance at this conference, expected to clear 3,200 paid registrants, along with a soldout exhibit hall with 306 product and service providers, are indicators of AASA’s appeal right now. Corporate sponsorships, which were budgeted at $350,000 for the Nashville event, have surpassed $480,000.
In addition, Domenech said AASA’s largest corporate booster, Sourcewell, a cooperative purchasing firm, has committed to a continuing relationship. Plus, advertising in AASA’s print and electronic publications has exceeded projections in the current fiscal year.
AASA’s executive predicted the year-end balance would likely be quite healthy, and he pledged the extra revenue generated would be “invested in ourselves,” meaning greater measures to bolster the members’ professional and personal needs.
Toward that end, he announced that the theme of AASA’s 2023 national conference in San Antonio would be Live Well, Lead Well.
(Jay P. Goldman is editor-in-chief of Conference Daily Online and editor of AASA’s School Administrator magazine.)