Developing Forward-Thinking Urban Superintendents

As the first cohort of leaders embarks on their course of study with the new AASA Urban Superintendents Academy at Howard University and the University of Southern California, we are thrilled to see this promising work come to life. Urban districts desperately need forward-thinking leaders, particularly those from underrepresented demographic groups, prepared to be barrier-busting champions for every student in their care.

Following an intensive kick-off conference later this month, participants in the Academy—predominantly from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups—will spend the academic year undertaking internships in the field, focusing on problems of practice under the guidance of experienced mentors, and taking graduate courses at the university before completing culminating projects. These participants, in-service administrators who want to enrich their field experience and training for urban settings or prospective superintendents, will be prepared for certification through the program.

What is so promising about the Academy?

First, it will bring much-needed diversity to the superintendency, which remains overwhelmingly White despite the highly diverse student population in urban and many suburban settings. We also want to cultivate superintendents’ personal investment in the community they serve, encouraging them to live and fully participate as citizens in their districts. In developing the Academy, AASA took great care to collaborate with partners experienced in community-building and service. Howard University’s School of Education has a long history pursuing these goals in the District of Columbia, and the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education is a leader in reaching a wider student base through online programs.

In addition, the Academy teaches district leaders to seek collaborative, context-sensitive solutions to problems of practice by enlisting teachers and principals, school boards, and the greater community as allies rather than viewing them as political adversaries. Again, the program was developed in a way that models bridging common divisions between groups such as superintendents and school boards, as AASA collaborated with the National School Boards Association, the National Superintendents Roundtable, and others in planning the Academy. In their daily practice, district leaders and boards of education—not to mention principals and teachers (and their unions)—must commonly articulate explicit goals that are mutually understood; only with this strong foundation in place can a community stand a chance to overcome the inevitable challenges it will face. This is also an area in which partner universities can contribute as members of the same community of educators, and where AACTE takes a keen interest in joining the work.

Perhaps most important, the Academy will develop forward-thinking leaders who can model expectations for success and mobilize educators around commonly held values for how their schools should be—what they are striving to achieve. Superintendents must work to create this culture, adopting an attitude of commitment to results—no excuses. The Academy aims to equip these candidates with the skills required to navigate their landscape without allowing the challenges to overwhelm them—to stick with it long enough to be successful. These leaders will learn to look for ways to succeed, and with the mentors and support networks built into the Academy, we are optimistic that the graduates of the Urban Superintendents Academy will realize their goals.

Best wishes to the incoming cohort of urban leaders!


Joe A. Hairston is assistant professor of educational leadership and policy in the Howard University School of Education.

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Sharon Robinson

President and CEO, AACTE

Joe A. Hairston

Howard University School of Education

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