2015 Leadership Conference inspires audience of current and future leaders
By Kenneth Ross
The Dean’s Superintendents Advisory Group hosted its annual Leadership Conference on July 23 at the Radisson.
A spirited crescendo of Trojan energy filled the meeting hall as Dean Karen Symms Gallagher extended a warm welcome and applauded the 279 attendees as the largest gathering yet for the conference. She pledged a valuable afternoon for every educator in the room—and, over the next few hours, the keynote speaker and 42 moderators and panelists in eight workshops made good on the dean’s promise.
DSAG Chair Greg Franklin EdD ’97 followed Dean Gallagher with an urgent clarion call for educational excellence.
“There has never been a generation of young people so important to California as the youth in our schools today,” Franklin told the attendees. “With birth rates down, immigration down, migration into the state down and an exodus of young adults from the state, it is crucial that every California student receive an excellent education. All Californians are depending on it.”
Expanding on Franklin’s sense of urgency, keynoter Wesley Smith EdD ’05, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, spoke on “Leadership: Protecting Student Rights and Ensuring the Realization of Their Dreams.”
“California is the eighth largest economy in the world,” Smith said. “Not in the United States—in the world. Yet out of 50 states in the union, we rank 40th in per-student spending.”
Smith translated that contradiction into blunt statistics: “Eighty-six percent of white students graduate, and 45 percent meet A-G subject requirements; 66 percent of African-American students graduate, and 29 percent meet A-G requirements; 73 percent of Latino students graduate, and 28 percent meet A-G requirements.”
The educator credited his alma mater with transforming his understanding of education in the 21st century. “USC Rossier awoke my conscience to the inequities of a public education system that, consistently and disproportionately, benefits some groups of students while hurting others.”
Smith shared a blunt assessment of what it will take to change the status quo. “Because the system is rife with inequities, education is necessarily and unavoidably political,” he said. “We must be the defenders and champions that our students desperately need—and we must fight for them when necessary.”
“Wes Smith sounded a call-to-action that connected very directly with his audience,” Dean Gallagher commented later. “His rallying cry for our educators came down to two words that resonate deeply for every Trojan: Fight on.”
The standing-room only workshops sustained the passion and enthusiasm of the opening session. Two workshops focused on practical organizational tools: “Crisis Management in the Age of Social Media”; and “Staff Management—Hiring, Managing & Retention.” Another set highlighted career advancement: “Successful Job Search Strategies”; and “Pathways to Leadership.” And a third set of workshops offered alternative career strategies: “Leveraging Your Education Degree in a Business Setting”; and “Diverse Pathways in Education.”
David Cash, Santa Barbara Unified School District superintendent, captured a common theme in his leadership session: “To be an effective educator, you must be deeply passionate about students,” Cash said. “This is not a job. It is a way of living.”