A history of ACSA Academies
May 2, 2022
One of ACSA’s most popular and intensive programs, ACSA Academies prepare school leaders with the specific skills and knowledge they need to succeed in various school leadership roles.
What started as one Personnel Administrators Academy has blossomed into 10 academies that put administrators on the “fast track” for their next career move. Thousands of school administrators up and down the state have participated in the ACSA Academy Program for more than three decades.
We asked the directors of some of ACSA’s longest running academies to share their thoughts and memories about the program.
Personnel Administrators Academy
ACSA’s first academy, the Personnel Administrators Academy, was developed in the mid-1980s under the vision and leadership of ACSA Assistant Executive Director Ray Curry, ACSA’s Personnel Committee, and key state personnel leaders including George Perazzo, professor, California State University System; Eli Vukovich, assistant superintendent in Anaheim City Schools; and Bob Kahle, assistant superintendent Azusa USD.
“I was on the state personnel committee when we developed the personnel institute,” Kahle said recently. “It was very successful but we needed something more extensive with a greater curriculum, so we developed the Personnel Academy.”
For a time, the only academy in Southern California was in Azusa USD and directed by Kahle. In 1995, ACSA wanted to start another in the San Diego area, and Ray McMullen arranged a location at Escondido Union High School District to serve the southernmost part of the state.
“[The academy and institute] were created to fill a glaring need,” said McMullen, who was a director of one of the Southern California cohorts from 1995 until 2021. “They were the only personal development options that were available to people who were entering the field or who might aspire to the position.”
McMullen estimates that he has worked with around 850 academy participants over his 25 years as an academy director.
The Personnel Administrators Academy has adjusted quite a bit over that time, said Sherri Beetz, an academy director in the Danville area for 10 years.
“For example, if we are facing layoffs, we dedicate additional time to layoffs. If we are facing a teacher shortage, we give more time to best practices around recruitment and retention,” she said. “The past few years, we’ve asked our presenters to address the changing climate at the bargaining table. Most recently, we’ve addressed the impact of COVID in HR within our monthly topics.”
Beetz said keeping abreast of changes is important, and she’s been known to email articles and updated legislation to her cohort so they have as much information as possible when they graduate.
“I believe that the Personnel Academy is the most targeted training for current and future HR administrators in public education,” she said.
Superintendents Academy
The ACSA Superintendents Academy was in its inception when Carmella Franco attended as a participant in 1993-94 at the Chaffee Union High School District offices.
“As it turns out, some seven of us from that cohort went on to become successful superintendents within a couple of years, and remained good colleagues,” she said. Franco would go on to succeed Louise Taylor as director of the Superintendents Academy cohort in Whittier and served for 14 years, from 2003-2017.
“Each year, several individuals would be named superintendent before the cohort year ended. This was an exciting occurrence and was encouraging and motivating for the other participants,” Franco said. “The ACSA Superintendents Academy evolved into a premier professional development program that attracts the best and the brightest in senior administrative positions throughout the state. It is indeed preparing the future leaders of school districts in California.”
Pupil Services Academy
The quest to start a Pupil Services Academy began in 2005, according to Sherman Garnett, who was then the president of ACSA’s Student Services and Special Education Council.
“Council President-elect Ray Vincent and I spoke to the council of the need for such an academy which had never occurred,” he said recently. “Ray Vincent and I along with support from ACSA staff developed the curriculum, recruited the presenters, and served as co-directors for over 14 years in Southern California.”
The first academy was held in 2006-07 at the ACSA Ontario office and had around 30 participants from both Northern and Southern California. Among the participants during the initial year was Rickey Jones, student services director at Fremont USD in Northern California, who stressed the need for an Academy in the north part of the state due to its extreme popularity.
Jones began and served as director of the Northern California academy cohort for several years before retiring and recruiting Steve France, student services director at Acalanes UHSD, to serve as his replacement.
France said the Northern and Southern California academy directors continue to remain connected with trends schools are facing and make adjustments.
“The past two years, we have really built a structure with an equity lens, beginning the academy with a deep dive into equity and asking attendees to use that lens throughout the topics presented each month,” he said. “This transformation of the guiding focus has led to deeper discussions and providing more insight to the supports necessary to provide students throughout our school programs.”
Principals Academy
The Principals Academy was launched in response to the need for high-quality professional learning that would be more aligned with on-the-job expectations for principals, as opposed to the “overview” provided in most administrative credential programs, said Derrick Lawson, who directs academy cohorts in Ontario and now Rancho Cucamonga.
“The academy was intended to be led and session presentations by practicing leaders with the relevant and real-time expertise and experience to equip our current school administrators to lead with excellence,” he said.
Five-year Academy Co-Director Blanca Cavazos said participants not only leave with great content knowledge, but also people they can call in times of need.
“Not only are they able to network with their fellow participants, but they also develop contacts with the presenters who continue to serve as resources well after the academy has ended,” she said. “In other words, the academies are also an opportunity to expand their ACSA family.”
Cavazos said the pivot to virtual ACSA Academies in 2020-21 allowed this academy to expand its reach to participants who might otherwise not be able to attend due to geographical or travel constraints.
“We now have participants in our cohort from areas throughout California,” she said. “Additionally, we have been able to share some of the presentations with other cohorts. These shared sessions allow for greater networking opportunities for our participants as they work in groups with colleagues from other cohorts.”
As the demands on principals have increased, Cavazos and Lawson said the curriculum has been updated to reflect those changing needs. Presentations have been added to handle crisis communications, social-emotional learning and community engagement, and the academy has increased from 70 hours to 80 hours to accommodate the additional content.
Special Education Academy
The creation of ACSA’s Special Education Academy was likely an outgrowth of the Student Services and Special Education Council’s work in creating its symposium, said Maureen Burness, who served as a director from 1996-97 until 2019-20.
Initially, there was one academy rotated between north and south annually. Then, demand was such that two and even three academies were held each year.
Burness said her work as co-executive director of the CA Statewide Special Education Task Force and as a child advocate board member for California Mental Health Advocates for Children and Youth have helped her provide current information and a broad perspective to her cohorts.
Anjanette Pelletier, director, Management Consulting Services with School Services of California, was a school psychologist when she attended this academy, with Burness as her director.
She eventually became a presenter at and a director of the Special Education Academy for the last six years.
“The academy series has continued to grow and improve, with a constant effort to keep the content up to date and relevant for current participants and practitioners. In the last six years the academy syllabus has adapted to changes in the field, the pandemic and return-to-school needs of students and leaders,” Pelletier said. “I look forward to seeing how the academy program continues to adapt and improve.
Curriculum & Instructional Leaders Academy
Darlene Messinger was assistant superintendent in the Laguna Beach Unified School when she was asked to co-direct the local Curriculum & Instructional Leaders Academy.
“It has been my honor and privilege to serve as a director for the Curriculum and Instruction Academy for the past six years. As a participant in the Superintendent’s Academy, I discovered the value and benefit of that experience both in learning about the position, current issues in the superintendency, and networking with fellow leaders with the same aspirations.”
Participants in the Orange County cohort travel from as far away as the Merced, Fresno and the Mexican border to attend. With the pivot to online academies in 2020-21, even more individuals were able to attend.
“Since we have offered virtual academies, participants continue to attend from all over the state, generating an opportunity for leaders from a variety of environments to talk and share about their unique successes and challenges,” she said. “The conversations, then, are rich and interesting, opening minds and hearts to empathy for one another, as well as new ideas and friends.”
Messinger estimates she has worked with more than 180 leaders over the years, many of whom have kept her apprised of their careers. Though she has “retired,” Messinger continues to direct this academy.
“It continues to be enriching and fulfilling to work in our beloved field of education,” she said.
School Business Academy
ACSA’s School Business Academy fills a knowledge gap many school leaders have when entering their positions.
“School business is very complex and rarely taught in post-high school programs. Subsequently, most people who work in the field do not have any formal training related to school business, or any avenue for becoming involved in school business,” said Sheldon Smith, assistant superintendent, Business Services with San Luis Obispo County. “Our county superintendent recognized this void in our surrounding school district offices and brought ACSA Academies to San Luis Obispo County.”
Smith has led two ACSA Business Services academies, one a joint venture with the California Association of School Business Officers that reflected the more robust and rigorous expectations of CASBO’s certificate program.
“The joint ACSA-CASBO Business Services Academy in 2015 was the first cohort to implement the CBO proficiency exam and the top scorers were ACSA members,” he said.
Mike Fine directed the academy for five years and said the annual quality control meeting that follows each academy year assures that topics align to the changing needs in school business.
“The academy continues to be the premier program to introduce both school business and non-school business educational professionals to the important subjects of California’s school business operations,” he said.
Watch for information on signing up for the 2022-23 Academies by June 1.
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