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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Gov. speaks to supts. at ACSA conference
February 8, 2021
For the first time ever, superintendents from throughout California came together online for ACSA’s Virtual Superintendents’ Symposium.
During the toughest period of their careers, close to 300 superintendents met to share ideas on school reopening and implications from the proposed state budget. They heard from the state’s top leaders shaping education today — Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond — as well as their peers on ideas for how to meet the enormous challenges facing educators today.
Here are highlights from just a few of the speakers and keynote presentations attendees heard over the three days of the conference.
Alex Sheen
“Don’t offer free stuff to strangers on the internet.” Keynote speaker Alex Sheen shared the origins of his nonprofit called because I said I would, which launched a social movement by mailing free Promise Cards to anyone who requested them. He gave superintendents strategies to help them make and keep promises. His organization also runs live youth character education programs that have reached 179,000 students. Sheen shared his favorite stories of youth from right here in California who have filled out their Promise Cards.
“A child — they know what a promise is. They haven’t been tainted by a life of disappointment,” he said. “When they see a commitment, they know that’s the right thing to do.”
Heather McGhee
“If the economy is a game, then we want all of the players on the field and ready to do their best work.” Keynote speaker and author of the forthcoming book, “The Sum of Us,” Heather McGhee shared how racism has a cost to society. Case in point: the coronavirus pandemic that has attacked populations differently, because of their likelihood of being an essential worker, because they lack a voice at their job sites, or because they rely on public transportation.
“This is a colorblind virus, and it attacked different populations with different ferocity and fatality, not because of who we are or our bodies, but because of the systemic racism in our society,” she said.
She spoke of the need to equip children with the tools to root out misinformation and giving them a “fuller picture of American history” so that they can make this world a better place.
“Young people give me hope,” McGhee said, mentioning National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman. “I’m jealous of you as superintendents that you work in education with and for young people who really are the best of us.”
Tony Thurmond
“Every day, someone calls me, even people in my family, to say: ‘Why haven’t you opened schools yet?’” California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond joined the conference during a special edition of the Legislative Lunch Break to talk about the hard decisions facing superintendents on school reopening. Thurmond said that with 1,000 school districts, there is no “easy button” on the decision to reopen. The California Department of Education tries to give guidance and resources on reopening schools to help local leaders make that decision. While school leaders have expressed concern about the frequency and cost of COVID testing, Thurmond said testing can be a “bridge” until there are enough vaccines for educators. While he had no “crystal ball” on whether the federal Department of Education will provide a waiver for spring assessments, Thurmond expressed that while the data would be valuable, we would have to question its significance given the current circumstances. He also touched on staffing shortages and how overall educator fatigue may affect the ability to offer extended learning time to students experiencing learning loss. Regarding the difficulty of securing new labor agreements to reopen schools, Thurmond said that these are tough negotiations that must move forward to a resolution.
“We cannot afford for our students to be left on the sidelines because the adults can’t come to an agreement,” he said, adding that concerns about safety are serious.
Pedro Noguera
“When we got to rebuild, we didn’t simply put things back the way they were.” Keynote Pedro Noguera said this about being affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and how educators can use the pandemic to make needed changes in our school systems. He urged educators to recognize the trauma students and staff have experienced in this time and be thoughtful on how to re-engage them once schools reopen. He also stressed the need to help them process the social upheaval in our country, including police brutality and the storming of the U.S. Capitol.
“How do we make sure this next generation of kids is better prepared to defend this democracy than previous generations?” he asked.
Gavin Newsom
“We want to accelerate the conversation because if we wait to get to the perfect, the school year is over.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom joined a fireside chat with ACSA Executive Director Wes Smith during the conference. Newsom shared the thinking behind his Safe Schools for All reopening plan, which was released in January. Smith asked about whether the administration was amenable to making changes to the plan. Newsom said he wasn’t “naive” to the stress of deadlines and negotiations required, and that the administration will be flexible when working through issues, recognizing the nuances and challenges of each district.
Newsom also spoke on his belief that vaccines, which are currently in short supply, should not be a condition of reopening.
“If everybody has to be vaccinated, we might as well just tell people the truth: There will be no in-person instruction in the state of California,” he said.
Newsom expressed his “reverence” for the work educators are doing, and the resiliency and resourcefulness that have enabled some school leaders to open schools and keep everyone safe.
“That resourceful mindset, fundamentally Wes, is what enlivens me. That’s more abundant now than ever,” he said. “Here we are a year later, and you know, we’re still at this. You guys haven’t given up. You care about these kids.”
Youth panel
“I feel like COVID kind of took away everybody’s youth in a sense.”
Brieaun Patton, 11th grader at Castro Valley High School, shared that teens have had to grow up a lot during a panel discussion of high school students led by Parvin Ahmadi, superintendent with Castro Valley USD. Brieaun said group chats with her friends used to be filled with youthful things – now they chat about getting kicked out of the house, or family members affected by COVID.
Student Kai Au shared that his responsibilities have increased around the home and student Richard Maestas shared that students have little to no motivation with school or life, and could use leniency on expectations.
“In this time of need, students need time to let everything out that’s been building up,” Richard said.
Budget update moderated by Superintendents Council President Katie McNamara.Doctors discuss school reopening on the main stage with ACSA’s Michael Kelly, at left.Keynote Alex Sheen.Keynote Alex Sheen shares images from Promise Cards that have been filled out.Keynote Heather McGee.SPI Tony Thurmond during a special Legislative Lunch Break episode.
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