Reading & Resources

School Administrator, October 2022

Book Reviews

Visioning Onward: A Guide for All Schools
by Christine Mason, Paul Liabenow and Melissa Patschke,
Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, Calif., 2020, 228 pp. with index, $33.95 softcover

Christine Mason, Paul Liabenow and Melissa Patschke have teamed up to write Visioning Onward, an inspirational and pragmatic guide for the development of a compelling vision for a school community. The book is an essential guide for school or district leaders who are beginning an improvement process and for others who wish to strengthen their school culture through a common vision for its future.

Mason is the founder and executive director of the Center for Educational Improvement, Liabenow is the executive director of the Michigan Elementary & Middle School Principals Association and Patschke is a principal in Pennsylvania and member of the National Association of Elementary School Principals Board.

The authors assert that a school vision establishes purpose and keeps a school from veering off course. Words on paper, though, are not enough. When a vision is clearly written, communicated, inspirational, collaboratively developed and is also implemented through an action plan, transformational leaders can shepherd educators to recreate education. 

Visioning Onward’s eight-step process for developing a vision is not simply a step-by-step guide but a thorough process that begins with a rationale for and characteristics of an efficacious vision and takes you through to the development of an action plan that can move a school from its present state to its desired future. The text is rich with examples from education as well as the business world and an online resource list provides videos, TED talks, articles and websites to augment its contents. Although this list already contains a few links that have been moved or are no longer available, there are plenty that will help a leader thoroughly understand the value and process of visioning. 

As an experienced superintendent, Visioning Onward enabled me to reflect on the improvement journeys I have led in the past and motivates me to apply my learnings to those I will lead in the future. 

Reviewed by Judy Paolucci, retired superintendent, Smithfield, R.I.

Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival, and Hope in an American City
by Andrea Elliott,
Random House Publishing, New York, N.Y., 2021, 624 pp., $32 hardcover, $20 softcover

Invisible Child follows the main character, Dasani, an elementary-aged girl in New York City and her siblings, family, and friends as they face deep, urban poverty. The book highlights the often surprising systemic barriers to their moving out of their circumstances: food scarcity, lack of Wi-Fi, lack of transportation, housing and the rules made by those providers that turn the barriers into nonsensical impenetrable walls.

This longitudinal study of a family in New York was masterful in bringing humanity to the characters in the book. The family's story demonstrates and visualizes the deep structures that stand in the way of equity-applicable to those in deep poverty whether rural, urban or suburban.

The author, Andrea Elliot, is an award-winning journalist and writer for The New York Times. This book won her the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction.

I was so glad I read this book with a group — a board member and assistant superintendent. I found the book one of the more difficult I have read due to the systemic structures making the advancement of the family impossible, and I needed to chat about the insights along the way. At every turn, systems had been developed and thrust upon the family — and others like them — to keep them in poverty.

As result of qualitative research, the book presents many thorny issues for researchers. The methodology chapter was enticing in teasing out how the author managed child abuse, food scarcity and violence. 

Through social media, Dasani and her family still have an online presence and they update their journey from the time Invisible Child was written. Unfortunately, with the systemic barriers they face, not much has changed. I highly recommend other superintendents and district leaders read the book. Whether rural or urban, the obstacles and systemic barriers families in poverty face show up in our classrooms.

Reviewed by C. Todd Cummings,
superintendent, South Bend, Ind.


Bias Interrupted: Creating Inclusion for Real and for Good 
by Joan C. Williams,
Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, Mas., 2021, 269 pp. with index, $28 hardcover

Bias Interrupted is a research-based work exploring diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. While the focus is the corporate world of work, some of the basic premises and human resources practices can be transferred to the management practices in K-12 school settings. Joan Williams is a distinguished law professor, Hastings Foundation chair and founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law. She has written extensively on work and workplace bias and is highly respected for her knowledge in this area.

Grand gestures don’t exist to eradicate bias in the workplace. The author encourages us to “start small” to interrupt bias. Williams suggests that one notice individual issues and try to address each. These would include such things as not addressing a question or idea posed in a meeting or not trying to solve a work/life balance issue for mothers and fathers. 

Williams explores whether bias training is worthwhile and identifies the five types of bias related to attitudes in the workplace to help the reader better understand her definition of bias. The most prevalent forms of bias are: “prove it” again bias (in which some groups must prove themselves more than others); tightrope bias (in which some need to be politically savvier to succeed); tug-of-war bias (in which there are struggles within a group); racial stereotypes that disadvantage people of color; and bias against mothers.

Meritocracy is another big issue in the workplace, and while not directly related to bias does play a part in attitudes. Most believe hard work, skill and effort will pay off in the workplace; however, this is not the best way for a business or organization to function, nor is it always equitable. 

Common workplace practices, such as resume review, job assignments and consideration for unique opportunities should be reviewed especially in school districts to make sure a wider net has been cast to meet diversity, equity and inclusion goals. Managers should use more data when comparing groups or individuals and try to be more deliberate and objective when making assignment or staffing decisions. 

Williams challenges the reader to think about the workplace to review one-size-fits-all decision-making processes that may lead to systemic bias. In K-12 educational systems, administrators tend to look to senior staff members for leadership roles and committee assignments. This may not be the best practice; Williams suggests that administrators have a clear goal in mind for the outcome and seek staff for these tasks whom you may not previously have assigned. Let individuals stand on their own merits when making assignments. 

Bias Interrupted is a well written and thoughtful presentation. Williams encourages the reader to be reflective within the workplace and seek ways to influence and change institutional bias. Given the current heightened awareness of social injustice in this country, this is a book all leaders should consider reading. Educational leaders can reflect on universal institutional practices and work to improve the environment for their staff, which will improve the outcomes for our students. 

Reviewed by Edythe B. Austermuhl,
superintendent, Berlin Township School District, West Berlin, N.J.

School Finance and Education Equity: Lessons From Kansas
by Bruce D. Baker,
Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2021, 298 pp. with index, $34 softcover

In School Finance and Education Equity, Bruce D. Baker provides a mix of biography, history and politics to analyze six decades of Kansas school finance debates involving state officials and local school district leaders. Baker was a new professor at the University of Kansas as the back and forth maneuvers among legislators, attorneys, courts and school officials unfolded. As the legal debate continued, he acted as a consultant to the plaintiff attorneys even after he moved to the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University in 2008. 

Baker details the legislative and legal evolution of Kansas school finance from the adoption of a new state constitutional directive in 1966 through the 2019 pre-pandemic efforts to recover from the failed Kansas tax rollbacks in the 2012. This detailed examination may be of most interest to policy analysts, consultants and other professors as they seek to transfer the Kansas experience into the policies and personalities in their situations.

The book considers key characteristics of Kansas school finance litigation and resolution efforts in detail. Baker demonstrates how numerous lawsuits unfortunately were necessary to provoke legislative action even after the legislature commissioned studies documenting the need for action. He rightly notes that “no good school finance reform can go unpunished.”

The book also digs into the special influence Kansas women in political and judicial leadership provide, the importance of evidence obtained from numerous, increasingly sophisticated school funding studies and the value of stable institutions (e.g., the state education agency, the courts, the media, the legislature, and a host of other advocates). Baker writes that “school finance reform … is a long, arduous process involving persistent multilateral forces,” a reality that exists to some degree in each state that pursues litigation as a remedy to state under-funding of public schools. 

While the book mostly details the unique circumstances that existed in Kansas, Baker’s concluding chapter provides valuable insight for leaders in other states. He affirms valuable conclusions about schools funding: a) money matters; b) higher outcome goals cost more; and c) some students and settings cost more. However, because these conclusions are well known to most superintendents, I recommend that your scarce reading time be devoted elsewhere. 

Reviewed by Brian L. Benzel,
former superintendent, Redmond, Wash. 


Discovering the Benefits of Effective Portfolios: Innovative Solutions for the Implementation of Grading Academic Work 
by M. Scott Norton,
Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2021, 100 pp., $60 hardcover, $25 softcover

Discovering the Benefits of Effective Portfolios: Innovative Solutions for the Implementation of Grading Academic Work by M. Scott Norton offers research and rationale to support portfolio use in K-12 education for students, teachers and administrators. The last chapter of the book discusses the benefits of portfolio use in higher education, which makes for a broad target audience.

The reader is provided with details regarding the purposes and contents for different types of portfolios such as working portfolios, assessment portfolios and display portfolios, but may be left wondering about how to transfer portfolios into daily practice. 

Specific examples of rubrics are provided and the author stimulates inquiry surrounding how the portfolio can be used to evaluate and grade student learning as an alternative to the historically problematic grading structure in K-12 education. Discussion of grading is brief, which requires the reader to already have a deep understanding of why the current grading system is problematic and be ready to absorb why portfolios are a solution.

To emphasize the importance of purpose as the most essential element of effective portfolio use, Norton writes, “The initiation and completion of a student portfolio should be governed by the three Ps: Purpose, Purpose and Purpose.” This theme of purpose continues to resurface throughout the book and is the thread tying everything together.

Norton stretches beyond evaluation of student learning to discuss and provide examples of portfolio use with teachers and administrators. The references to portfolios in the business industry throughout the book seem disconnected and out of place because the primary focus of the book is on K-12 education and students’ portfolios. 

The book provides a substantial start for educators to begin thinking about the purposes and benefits of portfolio use and how it can be implemented into their practice. For guidance on how to lead and implement this transformational work effectively in schools, readers will have to look elsewhere. 

Reviewed by Ruby Bode,
superintendent, Estes Park School District R-3, Loveland, Co.

Leadership For Deeper Learning: Facilitating School Innovation and Transformation 
by Jayson W. Richardson, Justin Bathon and Scott Mcleod,
Routledge, New York, N.Y., 2021, 176 pp., $160 hardcover, $34.95 softcover

Do you believe schools as we know them must change and adapt to the advances in technology and globalization we are experiencing today? Leadership For Deeper Learning: Facilitating School Innovation and Transformation by Jayson W. Richardson, Justin Bathon and Scott Mcleod uses successful school change models, found in school systems throughout the world, to show us how that transformation might occur. 

The authors say there are better, more personalized models of schooling emerging today. The purpose of this book is to share the many possibilities for change to be found in the notion of innovation through stakeholder empowerment.

Leadership for Deeper Learning joins a growing collection of books highlighting schools that have embraced changes to the traditional approach to schooling. As a means of encapsulating the driving mission of the book, the authors ask a simple question, “What do leaders in innovative schools do that is different from their counterparts in more traditional schools?” In their attempt to answer that question, the authors take you on a journey around the globe looking for innovative schools and leaders that embody a nontraditional vision.

The book is organized around the five Hitt and Tucker leadership domains: establishing and conveying a vision, facilitating high-quality learning experiences for students, building professional capacity, creating a supportive organization for learning and connecting with external partners. These five domains provide the framework for the schools featured in the book. The authors do a nice job linking the sample schools to each domain.

The notion of embracing failure is also addressed in the book as the featured leaders have a clear understanding of the need to persist in the face of obstacles. The authors tell us, “We do not get lifelong learners from classrooms that are mostly teacher directed. We do not get risk-takers from school environments that are focused on command, control, and compliance.” The book’s emphasis is on the depth of student involvement in learning and its authenticity. The authors’ advice is to go slow in the implementation of much needed change to persist and succeed.

As a former superintendent, I see this book as a potential motivator for teachers and administrators alike. Authentic, performance-based examples are offered as models to provide inspiration for you to develop your own mindset which should include student choice and stakeholder involvement. 

Reviewed by John W. Hannum, assistant professor, Caldwell University, Caldwell, N.J.
Shifting: How School Leaders Can Create a Culture of Change 
by Kirsten Richert, Jeffery Ikler and Margaret Zacchei,
Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, Calif., 2020, 156 pp. with index, $32.95 softcover

The authors of Shifting: How School Leaders Can Create a Culture of Change address a frequent challenge to educational leaders, especially those coming into a new organization. How does a leader successfully introduce, implement and assess change in the organization?

One of the more unique aspects of this book is the examples of failure in establishing change in different school cultures. Through interviews with administrators who experienced such failures, the reader gains insight as to why such failure occurred, and more importantly, how to avoid such an experience. One of the key aspects the authors emphasize is the why —that is, establishing a purpose for the change — and not to succumb to the idea of change for change's sake. 

The authors employ two different concepts to address the issue of change. One is their ARC Model of Change, which breaks down to A, assessing the current state of the organization, R, focusing on the problem, and C, Change, implementing and assessing the action. This model has value for all administrators considering the need for change to some aspect of their organization.

The other concept employed is "The Big Shift", which is how each chapter begins. A key concept, such as understanding a school's culture in chapter 3, is introduced and then strategies to initiate some aspect of change is explored further in the chapter.

Shifting: How School Leaders Can Create a Culture of Change would be an asset to any school administrator's professional bookshelf.

Reviewed by Marc Space, retired superintendent, Ranchos De Taos, N.M.

Why I Wrote this Book ...

“We’ve all seen geese as they take flight, marveling at their ability to organize into that recognizable V shape. We point and show our children, listening for the telltale honking, and wondering where they’re going on their journey. But why V? That was the question that popped into my mind as I drove home one day and spotted the geese flying off in the distance. What if some creative goose got the idea to choose another letter? What followed was the process to bring a children’s book to life about a little gosling, eager to take flight with the other geese, imagining himself flying as part of every letter in the alphabet. You’ll never see geese the same as you watch for the alphabet flying by.”

Jane Stavem, superintendent, Sioux Falls, S.D., and AASA member since 2009, on why she wrote Flying V: The Alphabet Takes Flight (Comet Tale Books, 2021)


Board Relationships

A doctoral dissertation at Brandman University has studied political styles of superintendents of suburban elementary school districts and their board of education members in Southern California. The study was conducted from the point of view of the superintendents, using surveys and interviews.

The study by Susan Andreas-Bervel for her Ed.D. in educational leadership concluded that exemplary superintendents adapt to the political styles of their boards and invest time in building relationships with the board members.

Copies of “The Politics of Superintendent-Board Relationships: The Strategies Exemplary Suburban Elementary School District Superintendents Use to Work with the Political Styles of Board Members” are available from ProQuest at 800-521-0600 or


School Crime

A new report titled “Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools in 2019–20: Findings from the School Survey on Crime and Safety” is available from the National Center for Education Statistics.

The report examines data such as the recorded incidents of crime, threats and physical attacks or fights, robberies and hate crimes, disciplinary actions and more.

A Civics Model

The National Association of Scholars has released a social studies curriculum titled “American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards.”

The resource includes learning standards for preK through 12th grade, with each year covering a different topic such as world geography, economics and world history.

Crime and Safety

The National Center for Education Statistics has released its 2021 “Report on Indicators of School Crime and Safety,” which highlights data on bullying, school conditions, safety measures at schools and more.

Key data points include the presence of more school shootings with casualties than any other year since the study began in 2000-01 and a decrease over the last 10 years of discipline problems that occur at least once a week.

Journal on SEL

CASEL has launched a new independent, peer-reviewed journal called Social and Emotional Learning: Research, Practice, and Policy. The journal is open-access and will serve academics, practitioners and policymakers.

The journal will feature articles in four categories: original research, perspectives, SEL in practice and SEL in policy.

Pandemic Experiences

The National Center for Education Statistics has released findings on school experience with COVID-19 related to student behavior and development, student and teacher absenteeism and learning modes.

Key findings include that during the 2021-22 school year, 99 percent of public schools offered full-time in-person learning, while 33 percent offered full-time remote learning and 9 percent offered a hybrid model.

Computer Science

A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics examines the qualifications of math and computer science teachers.

Findings include that 82 percent of public high school teachers were certified in their field compared to 67 percent who had a degree.


Academy Programs

The second cohort of the National Instructional Leader Academy kicks off in October, the same week the first cohort graduates. AASA’s Leadership Network developed this leadership program in collaboration with AVID.

AASA provides four Aspiring Superintendent Academies, which contribute to building a robust talent pipeline to serve schools. A second cohort of the Aspiring Superintendent Academy for Latino Leaders will graduate in February and a third cohort will begin in March. The Aspiring Superintendent Academy for Female Leaders will launch its third cohort this month.

Questions about the Leadership Network’s professional learning opportunities can be directed to Debbie Magee or Jessica Gordon.

Leadership Lens

AASA has launched Leadership Lens, a podcast featuring senior leaders in various professional fields discussing issues related to public education.

In a recent episode, Ray McNulty, president of the Successful Practices Network in Ballston Spa, N.Y., discusses VUCAH, an acronym for volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous and hyper-connected. He also explores the mindset school administrators need to understand, adapt to and lead in a different world.

Member Blog List Updated
AASA recently completed an update of its member blog list. If you are an AASA member whose blog does not appear, let us know at