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Superintendents Work Conference at TC

More than 40 superintendents from across the country came to TC in July to attend the 56th Annual Superintendents Work Conference, chaired by Professor Thomas Sobol, Christian A. Johnson Professor of Outstanding Educational Practice. This year's theme focused on the need for schools to be communities in themselves and the role of the school in creating a sense of community in its surroundings.

The superintendents came to the conference hoping to gain new perspectives that they could take back to their school districts. Leonard A. McIntyre, Superintendent of Hampton County School District 2 in Estill, South Carolina, commented that he was attracted by the term "building community" because it is a need in his district. John Phillips, Jr., Superintendent of Eanes Independent School District in Austin, Texas, noted that "Even though we come from various parts of the country--urban and suburban areas--we share many of the same concerns and experience the same issues."

Speakers at the conference included Professor Lawrence E. Lynn, Jr., from the University of Chicago, who discussed that city's new control of the school system. The mayor appointed a CEO of schools who, with the Office of the Mayor, assumed authority from local school councils. The strategy included the goal of "bringing the lowest performing schools to the level of the best performing ones."

Anthony Alvarado, former chancellor of New York City Public Schools and the current superintendent of District 2 in New York City, discussed professional development and school reform. Thomas Sergiovanni, author of Building Community in Schools, talked about the importance of changing schools from a system of contracts and rewards into communities bound by moral commitments and a sense of purpose.

Also among the speakers was Waldemar Rojas, TC alumnus and Superintendent of Schools for San Francisco Unified School District, who received a Teachers College Medal for Distinguished Service in 1996. Rojas was also featured recently in an article in Education Week on "reconstitution" for failed schools.

One unique aspect of the conference was the technological networking structure set up by Gibran Majdalany, Associate Chairman of the conference. Majdalany set up an official conference homepage, a newsgroup on the Web, e-mail accounts for all the participants, and a group mailing list. For the next three years, these services will facilitate the exchange of ideas and information between the participants, as well as allow them to conduct video conferences.

This was an integral part of the conference for many of those who attended. Superintendent McIntyre explained, "I like the idea that when I leave, I will be able to call upon my colleagues for support and their expertise. It is not a conference where you leave and that is the end of it."

While the week was primarily devoted to school leadership issues, it was not, by any means, all work and no play. The superintendents and their families were also treated to a New York experience which included a barbecue in Russell Courtyard, a dinner cruise, and visits to Ellis Island, local restaurants, museums, and a Broadway show.

In general, the participants found that the conference gave them time to reflect on new concepts and to revitalize their administrative efforts. Some said they would like to bring back new ideas to their districts, such as communications training for teachers, developing a handbook for community relations, appointing student members to their boards of education, and designing programs for parents to encourage reading to their children.

Leigh Byron, an alumnus of Teachers College who received his Ed.D. in Educational Administration in 1988, attended this year's conference. Byron is superintendent of the Bound Brook School District in Bound Brook, New Jersey. "The Internet helps to make us a community," Byron said. "I would like Gibran to come to my school district and share the things he gave to the superintendents with the staff of my district. I would like to incorporate Internet use in our classrooms, start newsgroups, and increase teachers' knowledge of what the Internet can do."

Jim Reuter, superintendent of Cedar Hill Independent School District in Texas, has already used the newsgroup and e-mail services set up by Majdalany. "I have tried to contact people that I met at the conference when I run into difficulties to see if they faced similar situations and find out what they have done," Reuter said. He added, "Since the conference, I have been named to a superintendents' academy in Texas. I feel part of the reason is because I attended the conference at Teachers College."

Evaluations turned in after the conference indicated that this year was the best conference so far, with most of the participants asking for "More Tom!" or saying that, "Tom Sobol, to a large extent, makes the conference what it is."

"Working with these outstanding superintendents, selected from all around the country, continues to be a privilege," Professor Sobol said of the conference. "This year's participants showed that while they believe in high academic standards, they also cherish the important role public schools play in creating community in America."

Nominations for next year's conference and feedback on the presentations are coming in via the e-mail service provided to the participants. The conference also served as a recruitment vehicle for the College. Many who have not yet completed their doctoral degrees were interested in learning more about the Inquiry Program at Teachers College. The Inquiry Program, directed by Professor Sobol, is an intensive program for professional administrative leaders in schools, school systems and organizations that make or influence educational policy, and for other not-for-profit organizations related to education. Funding for the Superintendents Conference comes from a GE Fund grant.

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