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Creating Future-Ready Schools Through Practices of Present

Joe Sanfelippo, superintendent of the Fall Creek School District in Wisconsin, had an unusual request for someone about to start a session at the AASA national conference Thursday.

“Pull out your cellphone,” he urged the 150 superintendents in the room, who were there for his session titled Creating Future-Ready Schools.

Then, he added to his request: Text someone in your school district who was making positive change for students — and thank them.

Sanfelippo’s point was that superintendents have the capacity to positively influence their communities through their interactions.

“Every interaction builds culture or kills culture,” Sanfelippo said. “We build culture in 30-second increments.” If superintendents spend time having conversations and spend money based on the children’s needs, they build a better school culture, he said.

“Let’s stop thinking of school as something we pay for and start thinking about school as something we invest in,” Sanfelippo added. This comment brought a general nod of affirmation from the crowd.

Panelist Thomas Murray, director of innovation for the Future-Ready Schools/Alliance for Excellent Education in Allentown, Pa, said Future-Ready schools must both cultivate strong community interactions and improve classroom quality.

Since January 2010, 11.6 million jobs have been added to the American economy. High school graduates who attend some form of college obtain 99 percent of those jobs. The Future-Ready organization establishes a solid K-12 foundation for students to graduate and thrive beyond high school. Two key organizational principles are school culture and leadership.

Innovation is key, said Murray. He used classroom images from 1918 and 2018 placed side-by-side to portray almost identical teacher-centric classrooms. Murray referred to Linda Darling-Hammond’s research on how technology helps implement 21st century classroom techniques. Murray said personalized and flexible learning spaces empower students.

The speakers emphasized that face-to-face and online interactions increase community engagement. People retain messages that are simple, unique and repeatable, said Sanfelippo.

Colleen Kappel, superintendent of Lakehead Public Schools in Ontario, Canada, said she got a lot of important advice from the hour-long session. “The speakers gave me practical ideas of connecting to community,” she said. “They reiterated the importance of celebrating people in the system.”

To date, 31,000 superintendents (in school systems serving 19 million children) have signed the organization’s pledge to create more Future-Ready schools.

Additional resources can be found at

(Margaret Gaw, a senior at the Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, is an intern with Conference Daily Online.)

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