Reading & Resources

School Administrator, May 2019

Book Reviews
Culturize: Every Student. Every Day. Whatever It Takes.
by Jimmy Casas,
Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., San Diego, Calif., 2017, 177 pp., $24.95 softcover

We have long since known the importance of culture as it applies to any given organization. In the school setting, the culture undoubtedly affects the classroom environment, school building, school district and the school community as a whole. However, in more recent years, scholars, researchers, practitioners and authors have begun to accurately depict what exactly a positive culture looks and feels like, the characteristics of a positive culture and how to go about fostering a positive culture, particularly as it applies to the preK-12 education setting. 

In Culturize, another strong addition to the Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. book collection, author Jimmy Casas has provided us with a step-by-step guide to creating a positive school culture from the building to the classrooms, all through the lens and focus of building and maintaining effective relationships with all stakeholders, while consistently serving as advocates for both teachers and students. Casas’ definition of culturize, that is, “to cultivate a community of learners by behaving in a kind, caring, honest, and compassionate manner in order to challenge and inspire each member of the school community to become more than they ever thought possible,” is intertwined throughout the entire book in some way, shape or form. 

Casas’ four principles of positive school culture―champion for all students, expect excellence, carry the banner and be a merchant of hope―are no less than accurate. Perhaps most importantly, the reader will learn “how to reach those who seem unreachable,” “what to do when students disengage or drop out of school,” “how to ensure your learners feel cared for and empowered” and “how to create an environment where all learners are challenged and inspired to be their best.” 

Casas brings it full circle in the final chapter with a detailed list and descriptions of how both excellent teachers and leaders behave. This list serves as a stark reminder why we must lead in such a way to ensure there is “a successful, rewarding, caring, and positive school experience for every student, every day … and do whatever it takes to make it happen.” 

Worth noting, at the end of each chapter, Casas provides proven culture-building ideas, aptly called “culture builders,” that one can immediately put into practice. Additionally, Casas has included discussion questions to help the reader self-reflect with regards to both the content of chapter, and the students and/or staff in which the reader may be charged to lead. 

Casas introduces this idea of life-fit versus balance, as it applies to what is more commonly referred to as work-life balance. This innovative stance and approach to work-life balance is certainly noteworthy and warrants consideration. It serves as another reminder that there will always be “more work to do” and “deadlines to meet” as a teacher or administrator, and that one must make time for thyself.

Culturize is a quick and practical read. Practicing school teachers and principals will certainly find this book inspirational and full of helpful insights as it applies to leading for and creating a positive culture in both the classroom environment and school building. Superintendents will find the text useful as well, perhaps as a summer book study for the administrative team or the entire school district. Regardless of your role in the preK-12 educational setting, Culturize is worth a read. Casas reminds us that our legacy will be much less about our individual successes, and much more about the impact we have on all stakeholders: students, staff, parents, community members and business owners. 

Reviewed by Denver J. Fowler,
chair, Ed.D. program, and professor, PK-12 Educational Leadership, Franklin University, Columbus, Ohio

Facilitating Teacher Teams and Authentic PLCs: The Human Side of Leading People, Protocols, and Practices
by Daniel R. Venables,
ASCD, Alexandria, Va., 2017, 154 pp. with index, $29.95 softcover

Sometimes in education, a word or concept becomes so popular it takes on a life of its own. This is certainly the case with Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). The term often means one thing to some educators while holding a completely different meaning to others in our field.

In Facilitating Teacher Teams and Authentic PLCs: The Human Side of Leading People, Protocols, and Practices, author Daniel R. Venables provides clear guidance on the critical role of the facilitator in professional learning communities. Trust is at the core of PLCs – without trust, they are doomed to fail.

We are reminded that at the heart of authentic PLCs are actual people – this is not a simple process to supervise; rather, it is a human endeavor that takes skilled leadership to truly thrive. The author talks about human capital and social capital, and how a PLC facilitator must be able to lead the process and people. This book is geared toward developing leaders to facilitate professional learning communities.

The author states that effective PLCs are only as effective as their leader. The book then gives concrete action steps, ideas and more to help readers become skilled facilitators of authentic PLCs (or develop others into highly skilled PLC facilitators).

The book includes vignettes, so we can see examples of what facilitators might face while working with teachers. It has a variety of protocols to use in different situations as one leads a PLC. Readers will learn how to ask more impactful questions that will lead to deeper thinking and reflection among PLC members. This book would make a great resource for leaders working on building true, impactful professional learning communities in their schools and/or districts.
Reviewed by Michael Waiksnis, executive director of middle and secondary schools, Fort Mill School District, Fort Mill, S.C.

Intentional Innovation: How to Guide Risk-Taking, Build Creative Capacity, and Lead Change 
by A.J. Juliani,
Routledge, New York, N.Y., 2018, 156 pp., $34.95 softcover

In Intentional Innovation, author A.J. Juliani responds to three questions:
Do we need to educate better?
Do we need to education differently?
Do we need education (in its current form) at all?

Juliani makes the case that innovation does not have to refer to technology as the driver in education, but to consider the science behind learning as we determine how best to adjust our instruction to meet the needs of today’s population. Juliani cites how the world of work has changed, how post-secondary opportunities have changed, how learners learn differently and asks questions about how to shape our learning activities to match the world today. How should we shape our assessments? How should we create a curriculum cycle that is flexible and adaptive? 

Juliani acknowledges that schools share their stories of successes, but cites the value in highlighting “what works and fails” and “the process of the work that goes into innovation, instead of only the final outcome.” These statements speak to the value of building a culture of trust and of empowering people through opportunities without fear of negative accountability measures. The goal should be to celebrate the act of taking a risk, being honest about the consequences or outcomes and bouncing back with another effort. 

Juliani stresses that learning is a social process. We learn better from those with whom we have a shared connection, a level of respect, or feelings of support, encouragement or belief. The underlying focus of this book is to foster and honor creativity exhibited by students, teachers and administrators as each group implements innovative ideas or practices at a pace it can manage with resources that fit its comfort level. 

Intentional Innovation identifies the challenge of the view that school divisions’ “conditions prevent” innovation from happening, but argues that it is the “attitude towards the learning that often matters the most.” This book is an affirmative read for school divisions currently in the process of challenging the traditional “stand-and-deliver” model of instruction to one that empowers the learner, supports the teacher, allows for failure and creates conditions for growth.

Reviewed by Lisa Floyd, deputy director of education, Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, Richmond, Va.

No Longer Forgotten: The Triumphs and Struggles of Rural Education in America

edited by Michael Q. McShane and Andy Smarick, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2018, 177 pp. with index, $32 softcover


In the book, No Longer Forgotten, authors Michael Q. McShane and Andy Smarick seek to broaden and deepen the understanding of rural education in America. Chapters within the book have numerous contributors who presented drafts of their research at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in December 2017.


McShane is director of national research at EdChoice. A former high school teacher, he is also an adjunct fellow in education policy studies at AEI and a research fellow in the Economic and Policy Analysis Research Center at the University of Missouri. Andy Smarick is the director of civil society, education and work program at the R Street Institute. Smarick served in various educational capacities at the state and federal level and is the author of numerous publications.


The National Center on Education Statistics reported 9,132,607 children attended 27,264 schools in 7,156 districts that statisticians classified as “rural” in 2013-14 school year. McShane and Smarick determined that the amount of research on rural education was not enough. In order to begin to paint a picture of rural education, the various contributors of the book each brought their expertise that allowed for an in-depth view of the complexities of the rural school system.


Before breaking down rural education in the various aspects of complicated systems, a definition of rural education needed to be established early within the book. The U.S Census Bureau defined rural areas to include all those areas located outside of places the census calls “urban.”


The contributors talk about the various aspects of rural education such as: African- American rural education in the deep south, impact of the opioid epidemic on rural society and schools, politics of rural education, economic trends in rural communities and impact on schools, funding for rural schools, staffing schools in rural communities and the impact of charter schools on already small rural schools. 

Students in graduate level educational administration courses who are considering moving into an administrative position should have exposure to several chapters of the book in order to grasp the demographics and complexities of rural education. Understanding the broad definition of rural education, along with time on topics such as rural poverty and school finance in rural America, could prove enlightening to any teacher considering moving into educational administration. 


Reviewed by William A. Clark, executive director, Bollinger Enterprises, Inc., Warren, Pa.

Raise the Bar & Then...
by Nicholas I. Clement,
2018, Teachers Change Brains Media, Tucson, Ariz., 2018, 86 pp., $10.99 softcover

Raise the Bar & Then... is a comedic approach to providing lessons on leadership. Unlike other leadership writers, author Nicholas Clement uses personal accounts, childhood experiences and aha-moment mistakes to make leadership analogies that the reader can understand, relate to and apply to their own leadership skills and lessons.

The tone of the book is amusing and informal, providing reflections from elementary stories, legends and poems, which make the book an easy and comfortable read. It allows the reader to view leadership in a less serious manner, yet promotes valuable tips to being and becoming an exceptional leader. The intended message is for leaders to raise the bar and continue to set and meet high expectations.

The book is filled with Tier I vocabulary that is commonly used in everyday spoken language. Leaders are normally exposed to more Tier III academic vocabulary. This approach gives the reader a break from such extensive terminology in exchange for a more relaxed conversational piece.

I also marveled at the "Sweet Tweets" additions to the book. These "sweet tweets" are leadership lessons that are simplified for the reader to tweet to colleagues and friends. They are bold statements highlighted in a cloud that are short and easy to remember. One such tweet that I will add to my book of quotes is "Little details = Big difference."

As an educator, I enjoyed laughing, reminiscing and learning from this author. It is a very short book, which takes little time to read, but provides lifelong leadership lessons. Clement should be commended for his different and simple approach to tackling what can be difficult and serious issues.

Reviewed by Xandra Brooks-Keys, academic coach, North Bolivar Consolidated School District, Shelby, Miss.


Women Leading Education Across the Continents: Finding and Harnessing the Joy in Leadership
edited by Rachel McNae
and Elizabeth C. Reilly, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2018, 208 pp. with index, $27 softcover

So often the question is asked, “Why are there so few women leaders in education/higher education?” This book demonstrates that this is clearly not being asked solely in the United States.

Through shared stories and research, Women Leading Education Across the Continents: Finding and Harnessing the Joy in Leadership provides global insights into the barriers and challenges women have faced, and continue to face, when it comes to equitably getting into positions of leadership, particularly in the field of education. This book is written through diverse voices of women who have shown the courage, strength, resilience, style and sometimes temperament of women in leadership positions, their trials, tribulations, challenges and barriers, and how they broke through them.
From New Zealand to Afghanistan, the Solomon Islands, India, the United Kingdom and Canada, McNae and Reilly have compiled individual cases that all tell the same message. One chapter title in particular―“Look to the Past to Understand the Present and Prepare the Pathway Forward”―gives a sense of encouragement that it is possible for women to become the norm in leadership positions. To make this happen we are reminded that resilience, role models, cultural knowledge, work life balance and, most significantly, gender equity must be acknowledged and obtained in order to navigate the myriad of challenges faced by women.

Reviewed by Priscilla A. Boerger,
chair, Department of Education, Regis College, Weston, Mass.

Why I Wrote this Book ...

“I wanted to communicate the importance of networking, how to engage in networking opportunities and how to expand the benefits of networking well beyond the superintendent’s office and into every school in the district. We also highlight the work of AASA as a ‘network connector,’ share our networking experiences and our passion for reaching out to grow and for helping others to develop. … We stress ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know that matters most’ throughout the book.”

Brian Creasman, superintendent, Fleming County Schools, Flemingsburg, Ky., and AASA member since 2014, on writing (with co-authors) ConnectED Leaders: Network and Amplify Your Superintendency (Rowman and Littlefield, 2019)


Specialized Rural Prep
A case study by Lisa J. Arneson, in pursuit of a doctorate at University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2017, investigated the experiences of nine new superintendents during and after their first year serving in small, rural schools in the Midwest.

Arneson sought to determine how rural school leaders benefit from specialized preparation that focuses on “ruralness” and how social capital theory helps to understand educational leadership.

Most participants saw a need for specialized preparation programming to better prepare them. All respondents relied heavily on a mentor in a variety of ways, which built social capital among them.

Copies of “The Case for Specialized Preparation of Rural School Leaders” are available or 800-521-0600.


Crisis Communication

The revised, 4th edition of NSPRA’s The Complete Crisis Communication Management Manual includes new guidance on using social media in emergencies, school safety conditions, and drills and exercises.

Social-Emotional Learning
The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning has released “The CASEL Guide to Schoolwide SEL,” a free online resource that helps school teams coordinate and build on their evidence-based practices to implement SEL systemically.

Dual Enrollment
Freshmen in high school who took courses for postsecondary credit in 2009 most commonly took those courses at their own high school, according to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Social Media
The National School Public Relations Association has released a new guide that includes steps for creating social media policy, procedures and guidelines, best practices for social media and strategies to encourage reluctant colleagues.

Reading Achievement
A new study by McREL International posits that Raz-Plus, a blended learning platform for K-5 reading, is an effective supplemental resource to improve elementary students’ achievement and interest in reading.

School Lunch Program
School lunch program enrollment explains the relationship between economic disadvantage and student achievement better than IRS-reported annual income.

English Language Learners
English language learners do better on reading tests scores in elementary and middle school, reach required levels of English proficiency in half the time and are more likely to take college credit-bearing courses in high school if they repeat the 3rd grade.

Superintendent Pay Study
AASA members can access the seventh annual salary study to benchmark superintendent compensation and benefits. The rich data generated in this 2018 nationwide survey provide key benchmarks when comparing how leaders of other industries are com-pensated in small, medium and large communities.

Superintendent Bloggers
More than two dozen AASA members who are active bloggers have been added to the Member Bloglist on the association’s website.

The bloglist is managed by the staff of School Administrator.

Advocacy Network
AASA members can stay informed about federal affairs through the AASA Advocacy Network. Members receive advocacy updates and calls to action, including weekly briefs on Fridays when Congress is in session, and monthly analyses to keep school system leaders up-to-date on news in the nation’s capital.

To sign up for these member benefits, contact Noelle Ellerson Ng.