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Seen & Heard Around the Conference: Gothard’s Gospel, a Food Fight and a Running Start to the Day

The winners of Thursday morning's Fun Run in San Diego, Calif. Photo courtesy of Noelle Ellerson Ng.

Minutes after he accepted the 2024 National Superintendent of the Year title, Joe Gothard had some memorable lessons to pass along to fellow superintendents who populated the 1st General Session in San Diego on Thursday afternoon.

Gothard, superintendent in Saint Paul, Minn., said from the stage that he lived by the “3 L’s” when dealing with his peers: “Colleagues to learn from, colleagues to lean on and colleagues to laugh with.”

Food Fight

Edgar Zazueta, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, raised a few hackles at the 1st General Session Thursday when he expressed a food preference from the stage.

During his brief greetings, Zazueta touted San Diego as an optimal convention city, then quipped, “No offense to my colleagues in Texas, but we have the best Mexican food this side of the border.”

Greeting the Sun at Conference’s Start

About 140 individuals attending the AASA conference got an earlier start than most on Thursday by participating in the annual 5K Fun Run/Walk in the predawn light along the San Diego Embarcadero.

The event was co-sponsored by Age of Learning and Johnson Controls. Event organizer Noelle Ellerson Ng thanked them for “making our morning smiles and miles possible.”

She added: “It’s always fun to start a long day of professional learning and networking with a little fun and fitness.”

His Return as a Regular Conference-Goer

Dan Domenech, who retired as AASA’s executive director following the 2023 national conference, could not escape notice when he returned this year as one of the event’s 3,500 paying patrons.

Soon after he slipped into the rear of Wednesday’s Governing Board meeting at the Marriott Marquis, Domenech was spotted by his successor, David Schuler, who called attention his presence, eliciting a round of applause.

Domenech, who has retired, also played a role in one of the pre-conference workshops Wednesday.

Divergent Views of Personal Lifestyles

Julie Vitale, the openly gay superintendent of the Oceanside Unified School District in California, has faced her share of odd criticism.

For instance, about her “lifestyle.”

“My lifestyle? I live at the beach, I go surfing every weekend,” she said during a conference session on “Reclaiming the Narrative.” “I’ve got a great tan – because that’s my lifestyle.”

But she’s especially flummoxed when she and other LGBTQ educators are accused of trying to turn students gay.

“We can’t even get kids to bring pencils and pens to school,” Vitale recalls one exasperated teacher saying. “How could we get them to be gay?”

A Smack From San Diego’s Past

AASA has staged several memorable national conferences in San Diego, going back a quarter century. One of the most notable scenes in San Diego’s conference past occurred at AASA’s 2002 event.

Dolly Parton was the principal speaker at the conference’s 1st General Session. When she finished, the blond bombshell left behind her plastic water bottle on a footstool at the front of the stage that bore a distinctive smack of the entertainer’s bright red lipstick.

An Iowa superintendent who called himself a rabid Dolly fan managed to snare the bottle following the session, then asked the editors of AASA’s Conference Daily to provide him with a copy of a published photo of the bottle atop the stool that he could retain as evidence of his unique souvenir.

(Compiled by Jay Goldman, editor-in-chief of Conference Daily Online and editor of AASA’s School Administrator magazine. Peter Rowe contributed to the column.)

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