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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Weekly calls were a lifeline during difficult year
Guest Column by Katie McNamara
May 24, 2021
It seems everything I read lately begins with the notion that we have had an extraordinary year navigating delicate and complex issues in challenging environments. Concluding my tenure as president of the ACSA Superintendency Council has offered another reflection point, and I was reminded of the wisdom of modeling what we ask of others.
One of the goals of the ACSA Superintendency Council, among many others, is to strengthen a network for communication among superintendents. In a typical year, if there ever is one, we meet quarterly with regional representatives from every part of California.
In response to rapidly changing circumstances, numerous public health recommendations, and frequent legislative actions, the Superintendency Council transitioned from a quarterly meeting to a weekly schedule immediately following school closures in March 2020. Hundreds of superintendents regularly signed on to these video conference calls each Thursday.
Superintendents often model and encourage placing importance on inclusive conversations and collaboration in times of change. The change in frequency of our meetings, and making them available to every superintendent every week, was critical, as information and data came at a staggering pace, often with recurrent revisions and updates. Superintendent Debra Kubin said, “The weekly meetings have been a lifeline to me during the pandemic,” and Superintendent Daryl Camp said, “The weekly meetings have been considered ‘must see’ television for me.” I felt the same way.
It would have been difficult to navigate the impacts of every decision made at the federal, state and local levels without the benefit of these meetings and the comprehensive analysis of information our ACSA team provided. The opportunity to gather as colleagues, discuss important issues, confer on legislative directives, review public health recommendations, and share perspectives has never been more important than it was during any prior year.
“It would have been difficult to navigate the impacts of every decision made at the federal, state and local levels without the benefit of these meetings.”
From week to week, we discussed topics ranging from distance learning and budget impacts to public health orders and accelerating learning. It seemed that every decision had unintended consequences that required detailed discussion, the sharing of information, and meticulous planning in response. In addition, we had the opportunity to develop a collective voice to influence decision-making related to bargaining, assessments, sports, and attendance monitoring, among many other topics. The council welcomed many guests to our meetings, including elected officials and state leaders, and we were grateful for their support and privileged to be able to share our viewpoints with them.
A key lesson when doing equity work is that diversity is what makes a team stronger. Diversity of knowledge, experience and perspectives is what strengthened the council in the expert care of the ACSA team. It was an amazing opportunity for leaders from rural and urban districts, elementary and high school districts, and large and small districts to exchange ideas, share successes and learn from each other.
Superintendent Anne Hubbard said, “While we have a tight knit group of superintendents here in Santa Barbara County, it has been enlightening to see and hear perspectives from around the state. There were many times someone would mention an approach a district was taking to something and I could take that information and apply it to my own district. There were also times I would hear a perspective which was not aligned with my thinking, but that would help me examine my own thinking on a deeper level.”
The ability to work in partnership as we implemented school closures, the launch of new modalities of teaching and learning, and planning for the safe reopening of campuses was instrumental in our recovery statewide. I remain humbled by the dedication, collaboration, perseverance and leadership shown by my colleagues during what was a challenging time in public education. Thank you to ACSA for facilitating this Council and supporting California superintendents with their expert leadership. I will be forever grateful.
Katie McNamara, Ed.D., is superintendent of South Bay Union ESD and President of the ACSA Superintendency Council.
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