Four Finalists Announced 2013 AASA National Superintendent of the Year Program


James Minichello, AASA, 703-774-6953,
Karen Cutler, ARAMARK Education, 215-238-4063,
Kelly Banaszak, ARAMARK, 215-238-3559,
Mary Dacuma, VALIC, 310-772-6576,

Finalists selected from 49 state-level winners;
Program celebrates 26th year

ALEXANDRIA, Va., January 3, 2013 – The American Association of School Administrators has announced four finalists in the 2013 National Superintendent of the Year program. The program, co-sponsored by ARAMARK Education, VALIC, and AASA, in its 26th year, honors the leadership and exceptional contributions to education of public school superintendents. AASA will announce the 2013 National Superintendent of the Year on Feb. 21, 2013, at the National Conference on Education in Los Angeles, Calif.

Wanda Cook-RobinsonMark EdwardsC.J. HuffMaryalice Russell





The four finalists for 2013 AASA National Superintendent of the Year are:
• Wanda Cook-Robinson, superintendent, Southfield Public Schools, Southfield, Mich.
• Mark Edwards, superintendent, Mooresville Graded School District, Mooresville, N.C.
• C.J. Huff, superintendent, Joplin Public Schools, Joplin, Mo.
• Maryalice Russell, superintendent, McMinnville School District, McMinnville, Ore.

"AASA is honored to present these four outstanding superintendents," said AASA Executive Director Daniel A. Domenech, in announcing their names. "They represent the best in school system leadership today. They and their colleagues are at work daily, transforming schools to meet 21st century standards and to provide quality education for all students."

“We would like to congratulate the four Finalists and all of the State winners for their outstanding leadership, achievement and commitment to K-12 education,” said Dennis Maple, President, ARAMARK Education. “As a longtime supporter of AASA, we are pleased to recognize the accomplishments of superintendents throughout the nation who work so diligently to give our children exceptional educational experiences and bright futures.”

"VALIC is proud to join the American Association of School Administrators and ARAMARK Education in sponsoring the 2013 Superintendent of the Year award," said Bruce R. Abrams, President and CEO of VALIC. "The Superintendent of the Year program provides a wonderful opportunity to recognize the important role Superintendents play in our nation's public schools. On behalf of VALIC, I would like to congratulate the 2013 honorees and offer our profound appreciation for their commitment and dedication to supporting our nation's children."

The four national finalists were chosen from 49 State Superintendent of the Year finalists. The finalists will be at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 8, 2013, where they will participate in a panel discussion moderated by Rich Bagin, Executive Director of the National School Public Relations Association. Also, the finalists will be interviewed by a national blue-ribbon selection panel of educators, businesspeople and government officials. The finalists are:

Wanda Cook-Robinson, superintendent, Southfield Public Schools, Southfield, Mich.
Under Cook-Robinson’s leadership, SPS became the sixth school district in Michigan to be awarded District Accreditation by AdvancED/NCA. She designed new instructional initiatives—including two University Academies in partnership with the University of Michigan-Dearborn, a STEM program, a world cultures K-5 academy, an International Baccalaureate (IB) program, and the introduction of Mandarin Chinese language instruction. She established a partnership with the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) to identify strategies to close gaps in reading proficiency. The district is now a model site for ASCD.

Cook-Robinson holds a Ph.D. in instructional technology and an Ed.S. in educational leadership from Wayne State University, a Master’s degree in curriculum development and supervision from the University of Michigan, and a B.A. in special education from Michigan State University. She has received recognition for her work both in education and in the community—
among others, Wayne State University College of Education Alumni Association’s “Distinguished Educator” award and the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Southfield Alumnae Chapter’s “Educator of the Year” award.

Mark Edwards, superintendent, Mooresville Graded School District, Mooresville, N.C.
When Mark Edwards came to MGSD in 2007, his vision for preparing students for life in the 21st century included a laptop for every child in grades 4 through 12 for their 24/7 use. Since 2007, MGSD’s academic achievement for students testing proficient or advanced on state end-of-grade tests has increased by 16 percentage points from 73 percent to 89 percent. The 4-year cohort graduation rate has improved by 13 percentage points, with 90 percent of seniors graduating. The college-going rate has increased from 74 to 88 percent.

Edwards holds a Ph.D. in education from Vanderbilt University, a M.Ed. in administration and supervision from Tennessee Technical University, and a B.S. in education from the University of Tennessee. Before coming to Mooresville, Edwards served as dean for the University of Northern Alabama’s School of Education, superintendent of Henrico Public Schools (VA) and superintendent of Danville Public Schools (VA). Edwards has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the 2001 Virginia State Superintendent of the Year, a 2002 Tech Savvy Superintendent by eSchool News, and the 2003 Harold McGraw Prize in Education.

C.J. Huff, superintendent, Joplin Schools, Joplin, Mo.
Over 60 percent of the students of Joplin Schools are eligible for free-or-reduced price lunch. After Huff arrived in 2008, the schools adopted a comprehensive plan to address lackluster student performance and low levels of community engagement. Since then, the student drop-out rate has been cut in half, community support has increased, and the district has established 280 partnerships with local businesses, faith-based communities, and social service agencies, to meet student needs. The program has become the model for the creation of Bright Futures, USA, that now serves nearly 50,000 children in a dozen school districts in Missouri.

Huff earned an Ed.D. in education leadership from the University of Arkansas and an M.S. in educational leadership and a Specialist degree in education from Missouri State University. His B.S. in elementary education is from Pittsburg State Universitiy. Among other recognition, he is a recipient of the Bob Grossman Leadership in Communication Award from the National Association of School Public Relations, the Tech Savvy Superintendent of the Year from eSchool News, and the National Together for Tomorrow Recognition for the Bright Futures program from the U.S. Department of Education.

Maryalice Russell, superintendent, McMinnville School District, McMinnville, Or.
Since 2003, Russell has led a number of initiatives to improve student learning, including a comprehensive approach to STEM education that features a FIRST LEGO Robotics team in each elementary school, STEM Summer Camp for girls, a STEM problem-based 90-minute algebra class for all 9th graders, and an Engineering and Aerospace Science Academy. In 2008, Russell initiated a strategic planning process that has guided comprehensive school improvement resulting in gains in student achievement that are significantly above the state average. MSD is the only district in Oregon with three schools identified by Oregon Department of Education as Model Schools.

Russell earned an Ed.D. Education from Oregon State University and an Education Leadership Certificate from Lewis and Clark College. She has an M.S. in teaching, an M.S. Ed. in administration, and a B.S. in teaching from Portland State University. Russell and the district have received numerous awards for their work. In addition, Russell plays a leadership role at the state level, where she has participated as a member of the Confederation of Oregon Administrative Funding Coalitions and serves as a governor-appointed commissioner to the Quality Education Commission

The annual Superintendent of the Year program is open to all U.S., Canadian, and International School superintendents who plan to continue in the profession. The applicants were measured against the following criteria:
• Leadership for learning – creativity in successfully meeting the needs of students in the school system.
• Communication – strength in both personal and organizational communication.
• Professionalism – constant improvement of administrative knowledge and skills, while providing professional development opportunities and motivation to others on the education team.
• Community involvement – active participation in local community activities and an understanding of regional, national and international issues.

A $10,000 college scholarship will be presented in the name of the National Superintendent of the Year to a student in the high school from which the superintendent graduated, or the school now serving the same area.

The National Superintendent of the Year will receive a jacket emblazoned with the National Superintendent of the Year emblem and, with the three other national finalists, will be recognized at the AASA National Conference on Education on Feb. 21, 2013, during the ceremony announcing the National Superintendent of the Year.

The 49 state-level, Canadian and international winners will also be honored at the AASA National Conference on Education. The winners are:

Alabama Jeffery E. Langham Elmore County Public Schools
Alaska Stephen Atwater Kenai Peninsula Borough School District
Arizona Jeffrey J. Smith Balsz Elementary School District 31
Arkansas Greg Murry Conway Public School District
California Garrett G. Rutherford Upland Unified School District
Colorado Sandra B. Smyser Eagle County Schools
Connecticut Gary G. Richards Wilton Public Schools
Delaware Kevin Richard Fitzgerald Caesar Rodney School District
Florida Richard A. Shirley Sumter District Schools
Georgia Christopher B. Erwin Banks County School System
Idaho Wiley J. Dobbs Twin Falls School District 411
Illinois Jane L. Westerhold Community Consolidated School District 62
Indiana Craig J. Hintz Warsaw Community Schools
Iowa Thomas N. Lane Carlisle Community School District
Kansas Marlin Berry Olathe Public Schools, USD 233
Kentucky Randolph Poe Boone County Schools
Louisiana Michael W. Faulk Central Community School System
Maine Betsy M. Webb Bangor School Department
Maryland Jack R. Smith Calvert County Public Schools
Massachusetts Paul Dakin Revere Public Schools
Michigan Wanda Cook-Robinson Southfield Public Schools
Minnesota Jeffrey J. Olson Saint Peter Public Schools
Mississippi David J. Daigneault Grenada School District
Missouri C.J. Huff Joplin Schools
Montana Jason A. Butcher Lewistown Public Schools
Nebraska Kevin M. Riley Gretna Public Schools
Nevada Caroline B. McIntosh Lyon County School District
New Hampshire Christine C. Rath Concord School System, SAU 8
New Jersey Christopher M. Manno Burlington Township School District
New Mexico Emmanuel David Atencio Jemez Valley Public Schools
New York L. Oliver Robinson Shenendehowa Central School District
North Carolina Mark Adrian Edwards Mooresville Graded School District
North Dakota David Flowers West Fargo Public Schools
Ohio Rusty Clifford West Carrollton City Schools
Oklahoma Keith Ballard Tulsa Public Schools
Oregon Maryalice Russell McMinnville School District 40
Pennsylvania William N. Miller Tyrone Area School District
Rhode Island Frank Pallotta Burrillville School District
South Carolina Rainey Harris Knight Darlington County School District
South Dakota Robert A. Sittig Baltic School District 49-1
Tennessee Johnny F. McDaniel Bradley County Schools
Texas Daniel P. King Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District
Utah Dale Lamborn Rich County School District
Vermont Ronald Stahley Windham Southeast Supervisory Union
Virginia James G. Merrill Virginia Beach City Public Schools
Washington Saundra Lynne Hill Pasco School District 1
West Virginia Blaine C. Hess Jackson County Schools
Wisconsin JoAnn Sternke Pewaukee School District
Wyoming Dan Coe Big Horn County School District 2

Canada Robert T. Mills Lester B. Pearson School Board, Dorval, Québec
International Ellen Stern Saigon South International School, Vietnam

About AASA
The American Association of School Administrators, founded in 1865, is the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders in the United States and throughout the world. The mission of AASA is to advocate for the highest quality public education for all students, and develop and support school system leaders. For more information, visit Follow AASA on twitter at Become a fan of the AASA Facebook page at

About ARAMARK Education
ARAMARK Education provides a complete range of food, facility, uniform and other support services to more than 500 K-12 school districts in the U.S. It offers public and private education institutions a family of dining and facility services including: on-site and off-site breakfast and lunch meal programs, after-school snacks, catering, nutrition education, retail design and operations, maintenance, custodial, grounds, energy management, construction management, and building commissioning. For more information on ARAMARK’s K-12 food service programs, please visit

ARAMARK is a leader in professional services, providing award-winning food services, facilities management, and uniform and career apparel to health care institutions, universities and school districts, stadiums and arenas, and businesses around the world. The company is recognized as the industry leader in FORTUNE magazine's "World's Most Admired Companies," and as one of America's Largest Private Companies by both FORTUNE and Forbes magazines. ARAMARK seeks to responsibly address issues that matter to its clients, customers, employees and communities by focusing on employee advocacy, environmental stewardship, health and wellness, and community involvement. Headquartered in Philadelphia, ARAMARK has approximately 255,000 employees serving clients in 22 countries. Learn more at the company's Web site,, or

For more than half a century, VALIC has served as a leading retirement plan provider for K-12 schools and school districts, as well as for higher education, healthcare, government and other not-for-profit institutions. As of June 30, 2012 VALIC has more than $67 billion in total assets under management and manages plans for nearly 25,000 groups serving nearly 2 million plan participants. VALIC represents The Variable Annuity Life Insurance Company and its subsidiaries, VALIC Financial Advisors, Inc. and VALIC Retirement Services Company.

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