President's Corner

Shared Thoughts at Term's End
By Christopher O. Gaines/School Administrator, June 2019

IT HAS BEEN a sincere honor and privilege to serve as AASA president this year and to share by way of the President’s Corner stories of my family, my experiences, scouting and paddling. With this final column, I would like to pass along a few of the things I’ve learned or that have been reinforced as I’ve traveled the country over the past year.

» The teacher shortage is real. Although my school district hasn’t fared too badly — we generally have many applicants for most positions — I’ve been amazed at the lack of candidates in other states, as well as how few students are enrolled in education programs in colleges and universities nationwide. When state and federal leaders talk workforce development, they need to remember that schools are also employers that need a high-quality workforce. What will the long-term impact of this teacher shortage be on building and district leadership?

» The superintendency is similar across the country. What varies is the context. Whether in a rural, urban, suburban or frontier district, superintendents have similar functions but serve in different contexts, which makes each district unique. A superintendent must “fit” into the culture and context of the district to be effective, but the district definition of a superintendent’s “fit” can change all too quickly with any school board election.

» We must evolve and adapt. Charles Darwin wrote in On the Origin of Species that it is not the most intellectual nor the strongest of the species that survives, but the one that is best able to adapt to its changing environment. The rate of change outside our school walls is faster than inside our walls. Our schools must respond. Many are evolving to meet the demands of their changing context. Others will be left behind. I believe today’s school leaders are up to responding to changing times.

» We must move our focus to the health and well-being of students. The needs of students are growing and becoming more intense, and schools and districts are responding with additional supports. I’m hopeful policymakers someday will realize that the health and well-being of students is more important than standardized test scores. It is difficult for students to learn if their emotional needs are not met.

» The power of networks can’t be understated. Collaboration beyond the school walls and district boundaries is a must. Whether with a local business or a neighboring school district, our students benefit from collaborative efforts. It’s important to use coalitions of the willing to move innovation forward.

» The superintendent must be a “yes” person. Someone said yes to you when you got your first teaching job and later your first administrative job. Perhaps a board of education has said yes to an idea you offered. As a leader, you must say yes to others as they try new things or propose new ideas.

As I transition from president to past president, I look forward to seeing the new faces of the AASA Executive Committee, who I know will keep AASA’s mission alive.

I believe the future of education is bright with amazing things happening in classrooms, schools and districts. I’m proud to be a member of AASA and look forward to #NCE20 where the theme will be personalization of education.

Join us this summer in Washington, D.C., for the AASA Legislative Advocacy Conference and the installation of incoming president Deb Kerr, who has asked us to inspire, innovate and lead greatly.

CHRIS GAINES is AASA president for 2018–19. Twitter: @paddlingsupt