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In First Address as Executive Director, Schuler Vows AASA’s Help to ‘Smash Those Compliance-Driven Barriers and Empower You to Lead for Tomorrow’

David Schuler, AASA executive director, speaking to the Governing Board Wednesday. Photo by Jimmy Minichello.

Not quite a full year into his job as AASA’s executive director, David Schuler delivered a welcoming message at the 1st General Session on Thursday afternoon, along with his assessment of the services and programs run by the association during the past 12 months.

Though he has attended many AASA conferences as a member, Schuler assumed the top job at the association two weeks after the 2023 national conference.

“In my first year as AASA executive director, I have been inspired by the remarkable work of our members. You are leading the charge to transform public education, but it is not easy work,” he told those assembled. “In addition to leading transformational work, you are continuing to have to manage politics, board relations, community context and those resistant to change.”

Excerpts from his 10-minute address follow:

“From post-pandemic academic recovery to fiscal uncertainties and…chronic absenteeism to  student and staff wellness… to unbelievably fast advances in technology…today’s superintendents, you, have the incredible chance to lead your school communities to the destiny of tomorrow… preparing our students for a world we cannot imagine and one that will reinvent itself numerous times over our students lives. What a huge responsibility… and a phenomenal opportunity.

 “From an advocacy perspective, AASA is tirelessly working on your behalf, especially in these unique times. At the federal level, our advocacy team is fighting for you on Capitol Hill every day, ensuring that your voices are in the room when decisions that impact public education get made. …

“With advances in artificial intelligence and the ability of rogue actors from across the world to cause harm to students, staff, and district’s financial systems, our team is pushing the federal government on cybersecurity issues to ensure our students' data is kept safe and our schools are secure.

 “AASA's diverse member support covers rural, suburban, and urban schools. Each setting has unique contexts, challenges and opportunities, and we are here to provide tailored resources and advocacy.

“Through our Leadership Network, our cohorts and academies continue to grow and evolve to meet the needs of every member. In just one example, following a request by our members, AASA launched a new academy, The AASA Leadership Academy for Black Educators, an academy to serve African American educators, whether thriving in current positions or aspiring to the next leadership role.

“For our colleagues who work in rural areas, we are laser-focused on creating opportunities for you to connect and impact your state and local communities, and I would encourage you to join our Advancing Rural Education Cohort. More information on our rural initiatives will be rolled out in the next few months, but to our rural colleagues in the room, we are committed to providing you high quality professional learning and networking opportunities.

 “As an example of AASA’s Leadership Network’s impact, after a site visit to Boston Public Schools during the 2022-23 school year, based on a presentation and collaborative discussions, a superintendent in South Dakota was able to work with their state leadership and supported by the governor they designed a South Dakota Teacher Apprenticeship Pathway which launched this school year, with over 90 participants. …

“We are also actively working to build the educator pipeline of tomorrow. We know many of you are experiencing staff shortages and we know that today’s graduates are not gravitating to the working conditions of today’s teachers. As a result, we are partnering with a number of associations and working on a number of initiatives to grow the teacher, principal, and superintendent pipeline. …

“And AASA needs to continue to be the driver of transformation in public education. Over the course of the past year, we have had many conversations about removing the barriers around transformational leadership work. I know you. You want to lead your districts to prepare your students for a world that we cannot yet imagine… and yet, we remain stuck in a compliance-driven system in many places. It is our job at AASA to help smash those compliance-driven barriers and empower you to lead for tomorrow. You know that the world that awaits our graduates will not be focused on seat time. You know that the world that awaits our graduates will not be focused on a standardized test. You know that the world that awaits our graduates will not be focused on how long each high school class is.

“In partnership with the Carnegie Foundation, we are reimagining the definition of the Carnegie Unit. Moving away from seat time requirements and toward an educational experience that values and empowers real world learning experiences. Much more to come on this initiative as well, but I’m ecstatic that we are on the cusp of eliminating a major barrier for you to be able to lead transformational work in your school communities. How cool is that? …

 “As we think about school safety and security, I also want to announce today that AASA will be launching a superintendent’s recovery network in the next few months. The SRN will be a network for any superintendent who may have experienced a school shooting or other violent act in one of their buildings. I want to publicly commend Kimberly Cantu and Randy Russell for agreeing to be the co-leads of this network. It is incredibly sad that we need to do this, but there is a need for sure. …

“Our AASA Learning 2025 initiative has been a focal point for the past five years of our commitment to learner-centered, future-driven education. We are getting awfully close to 2025 so be ready for a super cool unveil of the next iteration of this work which will occur as we get closer to the end of this calendar year. This past year’s focus has been on creating and supporting regional Learning 2025 hubs across the country. From Western Pennsylvania to Texas to Montana/Oregon/Ohio and a number of other hubs, Learning 2025 has provided an opportunity for regions to work together to move forward transformational work from an instruction and learning perspective. …

“Let's be #HereForTheKids, in both spirit and action. … Your efforts are a beacon of hope and innovation in education. Let us unite to transform our schools and prepare our students for a future filled with endless possibilities. We are stronger together, and our collective mission must be to shape a better future for all children.

“Together, we will lead our schools into a new era of innovation and success.”

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