The Total Child

Panel Promotes Equity at Education Writers Conference

(Equity Series) Permanent link

Guest post by Jimmy Minichello, Communications and Marketing Director, AASA

Hundreds of education journalists from across the country along with communications officers representing national education groups gathered last week in Los Angeles for the 71st annual Education Writers Association national seminar, held on the campus of the University of Southern California.

The conference, “Room for All? Diversity in Education & the Media,” focused on a number of critical themes, including equity and newsroom diversity. The seminar provided reporters who primarily cover K-12 and higher education with a lengthy list of story ideas surrounding key issues that have a direct impact on students, schools and communities.

EWA Panel 2018
"Room for All? Diversity in Education & the Media" panel.

On the first day of the conference, one of the opening concurrent sessions featured Howard Fuller, professor of education, Marquette Univerity; Catherine Lhamon, chairwoman, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; and, Pedro Noguera, professor of education, UCLA. The panel, titled, “The State of Educational Equity (and Inequity) in Schools,” was moderated by Steve Drummond, a national education reporter with NPR.

“We need to distinguish between equity and equality,” said Fuller, a former superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools. “People who are oppressed need more than people who are not. If we’re going to talk about equity, give people who have less, more.”

“We live in an unequal society,” said Noguera. “We tend to look at education in a vacuum. We’re one of the few countries in the world that spends more money on wealthy children than poor children.”

Lhamon, who served as the keynote speaker at the annual Dr. Effie H. Jones Memorial Luncheon during AASA’s 2018 National Conference on Education, provided some food for thought for journalists attending the session. Reflecting on the articles she read on this topic, she said she enjoys “reading articles that clarify who the students are (and) how high level policy discussions translate to the perspective of the student. That’s most beneficial for any reader.”  

Lhamon added, “What you write is what we know. There is an incredible responsibility to get it right.”

About halfway through the session, the conversation shifted to school choice. Fuller responded by sharing “If you have money, you’ve got choice. People who suffer are low income, working class people. They were forced to stay in a school that didn’t work for them that’s it’s not working for their children.”

“Middle class affluent people always have choice,” added Noguera. “That to me is an important issue. We have deeply entrenched inequities in our system.” Nearly three years ago, Noguera served as a keynote speaker at the AASA/Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy Inaugural Conference, held in Alexandria, Va. Watch his video where he offered 10 points of advice to attendees.

“We have to make sure that all kids have access to quality public education,” said Lhamon. “Schools can transform opportunities and outcomes.”

There were other sessions throughout the conference focusing on equity including the opening plenary session featuring Shaun Harper, a provost professor at the USC Rossier School of Education and the Marshall School of Business.

The mission of the Education Writers Association is to strengthen the community of education writers and improve the quality of education coverage to better inform the public.

As the professional organization of members of the media who cover education at all levels, EWA has worked for more than 70 years to help journalists get the story right. Today, EWA has more than 3,000 members benefiting from its high-quality programs, training, information, support and recognition.

To join the conversation in equity via Twitter, access #Supts4Equity.

For more information, access

Nominate an Ed Leader for the Dr. Effie H. Jones Humanitarian Award

(National Awareness, Equity Series) Permanent link


 Please consider nominating a worthy candidate for the Dr. Effie H. Jones Humanitarian Award, who will be honored at a luncheon at the 2018 National Conference on Education in Nashville . This award honors leadership in educational equity and excellence. Those recognized must be AASA members who evidence commitment to the advancement and mentorship of women and minorities in positions of leadership and/or demonstrate a commitment to address social justice issues among children, youth and adults in schools.

Due Date: November 6, 2017.

Nominate someone today!

EQUITY SERIES: SEL, Whole Child Education and Student Readiness: How do They Connect?

(Coordinated School Health, Equity Series) Permanent link

Guest Post by Karen Pittman, Co-Founder, President and CEO, The Forum for Youth Investment

Imagine this scenario. A smiling five-year-old is brought into a bare room with a table. On the table is a plate with a single marshmallow. The researcher who brought them in says she will back in 15 minutes, and gives them a choice: they can eat the one marshmallow while she’s gone or wait until she returns and have two. This simple test turned out to be an effective measure of willpower or self-control and a strong predictor of future success. Children who displayed early ability to defer gratification, on average, had higher SAT scores, lower body mass index and a host of other desirable outcomes.i


For decades, the results of the “Marshmallow Test” have been used to suggest that traits like self-control, emotion management and grit matter. Rightly or wrongly, however, the study has also been interpreted to suggest that these are relatively immutable traits that are baked into children early. 

We now have ample evidence that these skills are malleable. Brain research confirms that these skills continue to develop well into adolescent years and even beyond.ii Program evaluations show an increase in skill growth in response to explicit instruction.iii Combined, these findings suggest the need for more intentional focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) as a part of schools’ commitment to educating the whole child.iv  

The good news is that educators are responding to this challenge. The bad news is that efforts to teach SEL can sometimes reinforce counterproductive stereotypes about students and their families.

The statement that social and emotional skills can be taught is technically correct. But the suggestion that schools should teach these skills too often ends with the selection of a curriculum that emphasizes teaching SEL content. This expedient decision can pull educators away from having broader discussions about creating learning contexts that encourage students to demonstrate and build on the skills they have.

A new marshmallow study makes this point unequivocally. Researchers at the University of Rochester once again put young kids into a room with a marshmallow. But this time, the children were randomly assigned to have a pre-encounter with a member of the research team. Some had an unreliable experience: The adult promised fun art supplies but never came back. Others had a positive experience: The adult delivered the art supplies as promised. The impact of this seemingly insignificant encounter was amazing.v  

In the original study, the average time young children waited before eating the marshmallow was about 6 minutes. In this study, the average time for the group that had the reliable pre-experience was 12 minutes. The average time for the group with the unreliable pre-experience was only 3 minutes! Dramatic findings like these are almost unheard of in behavioral studies.

This simple test has enormous implications. It reminds us that even at a young age, a child’s behavior is a product of what they can generally do and what they believe makes sense to do in that situation or environment. The difference between the two groups is clearly not related to their general ability to delay gratification—it is related to their assessment of the specific behavioral cues provided by the adults around them.

A new branch of research called the science of learning reinforces the new marshmallow test findings. This research supports a simple premise: In order for children and youth to learn specific content (academic or otherwise), we must first ensure that we have created learning environments in which they feel socially accepted, emotionally safe and generally If these conditions aren’t met, young people are far less likely to engage in the learning activities, to show and use the skills and knowledge they already know, and to take the risk of stretching themselves into new areas of learning and leadership.vii  

 Consider the differences between these two statements:

  • Educators should prioritize social and emotional learning.
  •  Educators should recognize that learning is social and emotional.

 The first statement suggests that educators should take on responsibility for yet another set of skills that they and their students will be held accountable for. This means either that time has to be carved out of the school day to support explicit instruction, or that teachers have to squeeze SEL instruction into what are already demanding and prescriptive curricula.

The second statement suggests that educators need to understand the social and emotional profiles that their students bring into school and do as much as they can to anticipate their reactions to the learning demands, structures and supports being offered them in order to co-create contexts for learning that will differ school to school, class to class, and perhaps student to student.

The second statement, on its surface, seems more challenging. But it is also more empowering. It requires that school administrators, families, and communities acknowledge and support the powerful role that teachers can play not only as deliverers of academic content, but as shapers of the social and emotional contexts in which academic, social and emotional learning happens.

The push to formally integrate social and emotional skills development into the school day and the school curricula is playing out in at least three distinct (but overlapping) efforts.

  • Efforts to improve student behavior in order to address school discipline and school climate issues.
  •  Efforts to increase student engagement in learning through more active, personalized approaches to teaching subject areas such as science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) that respond to talent pipeline gaps.
  •  Efforts to prepare students for their future roles as citizens, community leaders and change makers.

All of these efforts involve deliberate work to integrate opportunities to name, use and build social and emotional skills into the learning content. Not all of these, however, are called social and emotional learning.  

 Project-based learning, deeper learning, service learning, STEM, career and technical education are examples of teaching/learning approaches and curricula that require students to practice the full range of social and emotional skills in the service of mastering academic content. These approaches focus more explicitly on skills like teamwork, problem-solving, critical-thinking, and initiative. These curricula or approaches are frequently described by their content focus or broader academic learning approaches.viii

These approaches, unfortunately, may not be equally available to all students. Teachers in gifted and talented programs and magnet schools, for example, are more likely to be trained and incorporate opportunities for students to demonstrate and develop all of these skills in their classrooms. A growing number of schools and school networks designed to provide these types of learning environments to low-income and minority students exist, but they are not the norm.ix  

Explicitly branded social and emotional programs (such as PBIS – Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports), in contrast, may focus on these “higher order” skills, but typically have emotion management and empathy as their starting points, moving on to include skills like “grit".x Many schools and districts have begun to implement curricula by starting with an explicit focus on improving student behavior. They have made a strategic decision to roll out these initiatives first in their weakest schools.

This targeted approach is justifiable. It can be an important first step towards reversing the disturbing trends in school discipline and suspension rates and in reducing disparities associated with race, ethnicity, income and gender. This first step becomes dangerous and divisive when it is the only step taken, or, more specifically, the only step taken for a subset of schools serving students and families whose lived experiences give them reasons not to trust schools and educators and give educators reasons not to have high expectations for students.xi  

It is absolutely unacceptable in the 21st century to have the social, emotional and academic competency expectations for black, brown and poor students be defined as having behavior good enough to allow them to stay in their seats so that they can complete needed credits. Readiness for college, work and life requires proficiency if not mastery of the social, emotional and academic competencies that have become the vocabulary of the workforce.

 Learning is social and emotional.

 Honoring this premise means that schools as well as any other systems in which students spend their time have to ensure that all students have access to environments that they find safe, supportive, stimulating and empowering. This means creating safe, supportive, stimulating and empowering opportunities for the adults who work with students to reflect on their own skills, assess the adequacy and have the time and resources needed to create appropriate learning contexts– from core classes to communal spaces. It also means providing opportunities for teachers, students and families to voice and influence systemic changes in the conditions beyond their control that are affecting the social and emotional health of their school communities.xii  

When faced with the opportunity to truly improve young people’s readiness for college, work and life, how can we not respond with all we have?


i Mischel, Walter; Ebbesen, Ebbe B.; Raskoff Zeiss, Antonette (1972). "Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratification." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 21 (2): 204–218.
iiThe Adolescent Brain, Executive Summary, by Jim Casey Opportunities Initiative, 2011. Retrieved July 18, 2017 from
Siegel, Dan. Brainstorm: The Teenage Brain from the Inside Out (2014). Penguin Group.
iiiDurlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D. & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing
students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1): 405–432.
ivSocial, Emotional and Academic Development Fast Facts. (n.d.). The Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. Retrieved July 17, 2017, from
vCasey, B. J.; Somerville, Leah H.; Gotlib, Ian H.; Ayduk, Ozlem; Franklin, Nicholas T.; Askren, Mary K.; Jonides, John; Berman, Mark G.; Wilson, Nicole L.; Teslovich, Theresa; Glover, Gary; Zayas, Vivian; Mischel, Walter; Shoda, Yuichi (August 29, 2011). "From the Cover: Behavioral and neural correlates of delay of gratification 40 years later". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108 (36): 14998–15003.
Shorter summary: The Marshmallow Study Revisited. (2012). University of Rochester. Retrieved July 17, 2017 from
viBerg, Juliette, et al. Science of Learning and Development (2016). (Pre-pub copy) The Opportunity Institute, The Learning Policy Institute, Education Counsel.
viiDurlak, J.A. et al. (2011) “The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions.” Child Development, 82(1) pp.405-432.
Smith, Charles et al. (2016) Preparing Youth to Thrive: Methodology and Findings from the Social and Emotional Learning Challenge. The Forum for Youth Investment, Washington D.C.
viiiEmdin, Christopher. “5 New Approaches to Teaching and Learning: The Next Frontier.” The Huffington Post. January 31, 2014.
Retrieved July 17, 2017 from
ixExamples include Big Picture Learning network schools (, EL Education schools (, XQ Super Schools (, and KIPP Public Charter schools (
xJones, S. et al. Navigating SEL from the Inside Out. (March 2017). Published on line. Harvard School of Education with funding from the Wallace Foundation. Retrieved July 17, 2017 from
xiHarold, Benjamin. “Is ‘Grit’ Racist?” Education Week. January 24, 2015.
xiiBridgeland, J., Bruce, M., & Hariharan, A. (2013). The Missing Piece: A National Teacher Survey on How Social and Emotional Learning can Empower Children and Transform Schools. A report for CASEL. Washington, DC: Civic Enterprises.

EQUITY SERIES: New Research Explores FLNE Student Experience in Massachusetts

(National Awareness, Equity Series) Permanent link


 A new report from the Center for Promise, supported by Pearson, explores what it’s like to be a First Language is Not English (FLNE) student in Massachusetts. Despite displaying an eagerness and motivation to learn, FLNE students experience a complex set of factors—from language barriers to school climate—that keep them behind.

I Came Here to Learn: The Achievements and Experiences of Massachusetts Students Whose First Language is Not English highlights that being an English Learner does not have to be synonymous with being a low academic performer. Some FLNE groups graduate at rates on par or even substantially higher than their native English-speaking peers. Others lag far behind. Learn more:

EQUITY SERIES: Many Miles to go on the Equity Journey

(Equity Series) Permanent link

The following is a guest cross-post by Jimmy Minichello, AASA's Director of Communications and Marketing. The original post is on the AASA website homepage under Top News


The day Matthew Utterback was named AASA’s 2017 National Superintendent of the Year, he said, “I don’t think there is anything more important in our work than to honor a student’s history, culture and identity, and affirm who they are in our public school systems.”  

Equity is a key issue for Utterback, the superintendent of Oregon’s North Clackamas School District. That was the topic of conversation when he appeared on Education Talk Radio earlier this week.

“It’s really been a wonderful opportunity for us to share some of the good work that’s been happening in our school district for the last four or five years,” said Utterback, who leads a district comprised of 17,000 students. “A really concentrated effort on equity which we’re finding has had pretty dramatic influence on improving student achievement.”

Accompanying Utterback on the program was Bryan Joffe, AASA’s project director for the organization’s Children’s Programs Department.

“Equity is really about all ensuring that all children have great access to a quality education,” said Joffe. “It’s really trying to change what we have in this country—that demographics is a (constant) predictor of student success. That has to change.”

At North Clackamas Schools, Utterback said 33 percent of the student population are students of color, with 40 percent on free and reduced lunch. “Our staff has remained traditionally White. There is a disconnect for many of our students. They don’t see themselves reflected in the curriculum and they don’t see themselves on our staff. Given that, how do we, as a school system, respond to that disconnect. That has been our focus in North Clackamas.”

Utterback added, “Our job then as educators is how do we bring in the culture, history, experiences of our students into our school system? How do we affirm students for who they are and what they’re bringing to us? How does that reflect into our curriculum and how does that reflect itself into our teaching strategies and our practices?”

Joffe affirmed that through various initiatives administered by AASA’s Children’s Programs, the work to address these critical issues is underway. These initiatives include School Breakfast, School Discipline and Coordinated School Health.

“It shouldn’t be the district (with high concentrations of) poverty also has low achievement,” he said. “It’s all about trying to give children an equal and fair chance.”

Although great strides are underway at North Clackamas Schools, Utterback said much more work needs to be done. “We still have many miles to go in this journey.”

Asked about being named the 2017 National Superintendent of the Year, Utterback said it’s an “amazing opportunity to share our stories in our work. We do have a story to share. I’m excited to represent AASA and superintendents across the country and bring to life the amazing work that public schools bring to this country every day.”

 Click here to listen to the program.

EQUITY SERIES: Guest Blog Post: DACA Students And Resources For Superintendents & Schools

(National Awareness, Student Support Services, Equity Series) Permanent link

This guest blog post comes from Jonah Edelman, co-founder and CEO of Stand for Children.

Today 750,000 of our nation’s most promising young adults are living under the threat of deportation. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA, currently protects these law-abiding young people, brought to the country as children. But the future of DACA is now in doubt, and, without it, DREAMers could be subject to immediate deportation. These DREAMers are students, graduates, and unknown numbers—at least hundreds and more likely thousands—are teachers.

AASA and more than 2,000 education leaders from across the country have signed on to a letter calling on Congress to take immediate action to extend legal protections to these young adults. Students need these protections to realize their potential and educators need them to continue teaching in our classrooms.

District leaders are speaking out now because they can’t afford to lose teachers like Alexis Torres, who teaches history in the Spring Branch, Texas school district. Torres is exactly the kind of teacher schools work desperately to recruit—bilingual and culturally aware in a school where nearly half of students lack fluency in English. At 23, he’s lived in the United States since he was 5. But absent a protection from deportation, he could be removed at any time.

 Fellow Texan Mayte Lara Ibarra managed to rise to become her high school’s valedictorian with a 4.5 GPA. She’s now enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, but the fear of deportation remains a constant. “My whole life I’ve lived with the conversation of, ‘OK what’s going to happen if like your dad or I get deported,’” she told a local TV station.

 Young people like Ms. Ibarra and Mr. Torres have played by the rules, working hard to better themselves, support their families, and make their communities stronger.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s district in Denver was one of the first to hire teachers under DACA. “We hired them because they are excellent teachers who make our kids and our schools better,” Boasberg said. “To deport talented teachers and students in whom we have invested so much, who have so much to give back to our community, and who are so much a part of our community would be a catastrophic loss."

 The stories and success of DREAMers define what it means to live the American dream and removing them would hurt, not benefit, our schools and our nation.

That’s why a growing number education leaders are joining our call for a lasting solution, including the superintendents of some of the largest school districts; the president of a national teachers union; leaders of top public charter school networks and crucial nonprofits; and principals and teacher leaders.

AASA is leading the way as part of this extraordinary alliance of the nation’s leading educators coming together to protect these DREAMers.  

Today, we are asking you to join us by signing the petition at

By taking action together, we can create conditions in which our students and teachers thrive, rather than relegate them to living in fear.

 For more information about the petition for DREAMer protections and the full list of signatories, please visit

  1. Clearly communicate that our schools are welcoming to everyone. Work with your school board to pass a resolution affirming schools as welcoming places of learning for all students, distancing the schools from enforcement actions that separate families. Some districts have even declared that they are ICE-free zones/sanctuary schools and have taken the public position that they will not permit entry to law enforcement absent a judicial order.
  2.  Identify a point person who can serve as the immigration resource advocate in the district and keep good documentation of any encounters. Encourage the same for each campus.
  3.  Determine a process for approving documents to ensure all materials distributed to teachers, support staff, students, families and the community are up-to-date and authored by reputable sources.
  4.  Inform students and their families of their rights by distributing “know your rights” materials (or other approved materials) in appropriate languages to stakeholders so they are informed about what to do if a raid occurs or an individual is detained.
  5.  Maintain a list of approved resources, such as the names of social workers, pro bono attorneys and local immigration advocates and organizations, that can be shared with your students and their families.
  6.  Partner with a pro bono attorney, legal aid organization or immigrant rights organization to schedule a “know your rights” workshop on campuses to inform students and families about their rights.
  7.  Identify or create a local immigration raid rapid response team. These teams usually consist of attorneys, media personnel and community leaders who may be able to provide support. If there is a local response team, assign a point person for communication on the district staff.
  8.  Create a process for what to do if a parent, sibling or student has been detained. This should include providing a safe place for students to wait if their parent/guardian is unable to take them home. Double-check emergency contact info and ensure that you have multiple phone numbers on hand for relatives/guardians in case a student's emergency contact is detained, be prepared to issue a statement condemning raids and calling for the immediate release of students, and consider alternate pickup and drop-off arrangements in case an ICE checkpoint is established near your school.
  9.  Coordinate with other agencies in the community as needed, particularly child protective services if the chance of foster care is increased during this time.
  10.  Provide counseling for students who have had a family member detained by ICE.
  11.  Train and educate guidance counselors and key staff to help mentor or guide students who are impacted by immigration, including undocumented students applying to college.

 The following links provide additional national resources from immigration experts:  




EQUITY SERIES: Highline Public Schools #RethinkDisicpline and Out of School Supensions

(School Discipline , On The Road, National Awareness, Equity Series) Permanent link

The following is a guest post by AASA member, Susan Enfield, Superintendent of Highline Public Schools (WA), who attended the AASA/CDF Summit on School Discipline in October 2016.Watch this video, from the Summit, where Superintendent Enfield discusses how suspension should be used as a last resort in school discipline. 

  Watch The Video

During the 2011-12 school year, Highline Public Schools out-of-school suspended or expelled students 2107 times. The most common offense? Defiance. As the district’s new superintendent I knew we had to take action. Fortunately, our staff, school board and community were ready to do just that, so as part of our strategic planning process in 2012-13 we identified six bold goals worthy of our students. One of those was the elimination of out-school-suspensions and expulsions except when critical for staff and student safety which put us on our path to rethinking school discipline in Highline.

 While there is ample research that points to why out-of-school suspension is not a successful intervention or deterrent when it comes to student behavior, what was even more compelling for us were our own students. When asked, they told us that suspension simply didn’t work. Furthermore, we knew from our own data that even one out-of-school suspension increased the likelihood that a student would ultimately drop out, meaning that loss of time in school potentially meant the loss of a high school diploma.

Knowing we had to find ways to get to the root cause of a student’s behavior rather than simply punishing them for it, we invested in Re-engagement Specialists at each of our middle and high schools to lead the development of alternatives to suspension that would keep students in school, while also providing appropriate consequences for their actions and needed interventions and support. As with any new strategy, we have experienced both successes and failures; this is paradigm-shifting work that is not without its criticism or controversy. It is, however, the right thing to do for our students. We have learned that communicating, constantly, with our families and community is essential so we continue to get better at telling our story, an example of which you can see in this video.

Our promise in Highline Public Schools is to ensure that every student is known by name, strength and need and graduates prepared for college, career and citizenship. To deliver on this promise we are committed to keeping our students in school and creating a culture where staff and students alike feel safe, supported and challenged.

EQUITY SERIES: U.S. Secretaries of Education and Health and Human Services Recognize AASA's Contributions to Children

(Children’s Health Insurance , National Awareness, Equity Series) Permanent link

 Obama Administration Encourages Schools to Enroll in Health Care Coverage Through School Registration


 "The challenge for all of us, whether it's in healthcare or education is to figure out what we can do to help students and families. We know efforts like the partnership between AASA, The School Superintendents Association and The Children's Defense Fund can make a real difference connecting children and families to quality health care."

  - U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.  

 "3 out of 4 uninsured children walk through the school door...when we think about the children, [school] is the place where the children are reached, and this is the place where there are trusted voices. This is also a place where we can think about the parents' trust. It's not just about asking the question, [does your child have health insurance?], but going the next step if the answer is 'no'. Then, what do you do to get that insurance?"

  --U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell.


 Pictured (L-R) U.S. Secretary of Education, John B. King Jr, Lillian Maldonado French, Superintendent of Mountain View School District (CA), and Dan Domenech, Executive Director, AASA.

 On August 31st, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell and U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. hosted a Roundtable discussion at Francis L. Cardozo Education Campus in Washington D.C., to launch AASA and CDF's "Insure All Children" Toolkit (, supported by The Atlantic Philanthropies.This work was emanated from AASA's Children's Programs Department, whose work is centered on driving systems change and increasing educational equity. The Department is committed to equity in educational opportunities and outcomes, reducing racial disparities and aiding and assisting those most in need.

 toolkit launch

 AASA's Executive Director Dan Domenech gave opening remarks and moderated the discussion. Along with the Secretaries, Dan was joined by CDF President, Marian Wright Edelman, Superintendent Lillian Maldonado French of Mountain View School District (CA) and District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson.

"I worked in public education for 40 years and was a superintendent for 27 years. The health of a child is critical to a good education," Dan said as he begun the discussion.

"Children don't come in pieces," Marian Wright Edelman added. "Every child needs to be insured. We've made progress, but there's more to be done."

The discussion highlighted best practices for getting more students enrolled in health insurance by asking the simple question, "Does your child have health insurance?" on important annual school forms. All children need access to health insurance in order to succeed in school and in life.

"This shouldn't be a dream, [ access to health insurance] is something every child should have," said Superintendent French, who has worked with AASA and CDF on this initiative since 2011. "Even two to three days a month of missing school has a tremendous impact. You can't teach a child who is sick."

Watch this video with U.S Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.


 Watch this video with U.S Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell


Watch this promo video featuring AASA's Executive Director Dan Domenech and CDF's President Marian Wright Edelman as they introduce the toolkit and address how all children need to have access to comprehensive, affordable health insurance to succeed in school and in life.


 Learn more from the Department of Education's Press Release.

The "Insure All Children" Toolkit

 Our interactive toolkit contains lessons learned from 15 urban, suburban and rural school districts.  

 Find interactive maps that provide real-time data on children uninsured in school districts and short videos with advice from superintendents. Interact on social media using #InsureAllChildren to share health enrollment stories.Download a PDF copy or visit


EQUITY SERIES: Together for Tomorrow – A Partnership Designed for Student Success

(National Awareness, Equity Series) Permanent link

The following guest post was written by Donald A. Murk, PhD, Chair of the Education Department and Professor of Early Childhood Education at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa. He is beginning his 35th year at the college.

Dr. Murk writes about the Together for Tomorrow Project, and how it has impacted Downey Elementary School in Harrisburg School District (PA). Dr. Sybil Knight-Burney, Superintendent of this school district, is an AASA member.

 We learned about TFT at the  June 2016 “Every Student, Every Day National Conference: Eliminating Chronic Absenteeism by Implementing and Strengthening Cross-Sector Systems of Support for All Students,” sponsored by the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice.  

AASA Children’s Programs Department organized and moderated a panel at this conference entitled Together for Tomorrow: Top Down Leadership to Address Chronic Absenteeism. This panel featured AASA member Dr. Sybil Knight-Burney, superintendent of Harrisburg School District (PA), alongside Mr. Travis Peck, principal at Downey Elementary and this week’s guest poster, Dr. Donald Murk. Department member, Kayla Jackson, moderated this session.

(Pictured L-R): Travis Peck, Principal, Downey School, Harrisburg, Pa.; Dr. Donald Murk, Chair, Department of Education and Professor of Early Childhood Education, Messiah College, Mechanicsburg, Pa.; Kayla Jackson, Project Director, AASA, Alexandria, Va; Dr. Sybil Knight-Burney, Superintendent, Harrisburg School District, Harrisburg, Pa..

By Donald A. Murk, PhD

 If the future of this nation is to be secure, we must all come together on behalf of the children (Boyer, 1991)** 

School reform/renewal is a hot topic in education. What helps failing schools improve? How do we get children engaged in their learning? How do we get the community involved in public education? Research suggests that partnerships between schools and nearby universities/colleges are one way toward reaching these goals.

The partnership described in this article has been in the making for 34 years. You see, I did my student teaching at Downey in 1978/79. Some might say the stars aligned, or that the timing was right.. However you define it, this dynamic partnership benefits all parties and the excitement from the teachers, parents, and students is contagious. Businesses, churches, and individuals are beginning to recognize the power of this partnership and want to be connected.

 Togetherfortmrw logo

 Together for Tomorrow (TFT) is a national initiative of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships together with the U.S. Department of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Services (CNCS) that recognizes community-led partnerships to support struggling schools. TFT is aimed at changing the relationship between schools and community partners so everyone feels a shared responsibility to improve low-performing schools. At the heart of this effort are three key goals:

  1. Celebrate and inspire community and family engagement in education and strengthen a community culture of education success;
  2.  Foster the capacity of low-performing schools to manage school-community partnerships; and
  3.  Focus community partnerships on boosting key measurable student outcomes – Attendance, Behavior, Course performance, and College access (the ABCs) – as a means to improve low-performing schools.

Our local initiative is a collaboration between Messiah College (Mechanicsburg, Pa.), Harrisburg School District and Downey Elementary School (Harrisburg, Pa.). This partnership would not be possible without the support of Dr. Sybil Knight-Burney, Superintendent of the Harrisburg School District, Mr. Travis Peck, Principal at Downey, and the Harrisburg Public Schools Foundation.

 Downey Elementary is the first Harrisburg site for TFT . Teachers lead three focal point groups so that they are able to ensure the TFT efforts are supporting student achievement. The development of initiative objectives with help from students, parents, and the community, are focused on boosting key measurable student outcomes, closing the achievement gap and supporting overall student success. The focal point groups contain talented individuals who wish to support the effort through attributes in their field of involvement. There is a steering committee of Downey School representatives from each focal point group. Student Achievement is the main goal of the TFT initiative. By participating in the decision making process, students are empowered to become leaders who are aware of their importance and contribution in society.

 The community partnerships that are being established will help to strengthen the school. As the community becomes involved in the school, more opportunities will open up for the students. Not simply monetarily, but through community involvement in the school through mentoring and classroom participation.

 Downey is also a “Leader in Me” school and the habits fit well into the goals of the school. The Leader in Me is Franklin Covey’s whole school transformation process. It teaches 21st century leadership and life skills to students and creates a culture of student empowerment based on the idea that every child can be a leader. The 7 Habits is a synthesis of universal, timeless principles of personal and interpersonal effectiveness, such as responsibility, vision, integrity, teamwork, collaboration and renewal, which are secular in nature and common to all people and cultures.

 Measuring success is difficult. People want dramatic results. Here are a few measurements that show improvement.

  •  Parent teacher conferences went from 35% participation in 2013 to 80% in 2016;
  •  Over 1800 parents/guardians attended various school events this year;
  •  Discipline referrals are down, and attendance is up (92.3%);
  •  Teacher morale is at an all- time high;
  • The news media is reporting the positive instead of the negative; and
  •  Students are excited about coming to school and more importantly, they are excited about learning!

Innovative and exciting things are happening at Downey. I cannot wait to see the promise of success for the new school year!


** Citation: Boyer, Ernest Ready to Learn: A Mandate for the Nation. New Jersey: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1991.

EQUITY SERIES: Deep Under My Skin

(Coordinated School Health, National Awareness, Equity Series) Permanent link

The following blog post was written by a member of the AASA School Administrator Training Cadre for Coordinated School Health, Dr. Deb Kaclik. Dr. Kaclik explores the complexities of misconstruing gender identity and how it relates to school administrators providing safe environments for their students. Her message is especially pertinent, in light of the controversial law passed in North Carolina –the state where Dr. Kaclik works--, which requires that transgender students use school facilities that correspond with their sex assigned at birth. Recently, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released joint guidance to help provide educators the information they need to ensure that all students, including transgender students, can attend school in an environment free from discrimination based on sex.

 By Dr. Deb Kaclik, Director, Social & Emotional Learning and Behavior Support, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (N.C.)

A few weeks ago I was in the bathroom at a casual restaurant in Charlotte, NC when a woman walked in and asked, “Am I in the right place?” Though the interaction lasted just a split second, I kept replaying it in my mind.

My first thought was: I’m a 50 something year-old woman, wearing sports wear, and running shoes. Was it the way I was dressed? Is it because I’m 5’11” tall and 170 pounds that she would assume that I didn’t belong in her bathroom? Or that I don’t look particularly feminine but more “sporty” maybe? Because I have short hair? More muscular and fit? Did she assume I was a man in the women’s bathroom? Why did she assume that or even ask the question? 

 I felt angry. But why? I’m proud of who I am. I feel accepted by my colleagues, my staff, and a broad group of political leaders. I am blessed with loving relationships: my partner, my family, and my friends.

I would not have felt as angry, perhaps, if she would have just stared at me and said nothing. So how did she get so deep under my skin? There was more than just anger there. This woman had dragged me from my happy place back to those painful times, when I was younger, remembering the feelings of being mis-gendered. The awkwardness, the feelings of wanting to disappear, or miraculously spin into a ninja and escape. What's wrong with me? How do I change who I am? Can I change what I look like? What do they see? Who am I? What am I?

Are people intentionally looking for who they perceive to look like men in the women’s restroom now that the topic is at the forefront in the media? Are we creating a hypersensitive atmosphere and even making things worse for an already marginalized person? If I am now thinking and experiencing these things, just stop for a minute to process what our transgender, and gender nonconforming students and staff, must be feeling, thinking, and worse experiencing?

What should matter is only what is what, who is who, and me is me! What is happening to me and how it is making me feel is important to me. Who will stand up for me? Do what is right? Create the comfortable culture for all without pointing the ME’s out? Help me? Possibly protect me? Do we accept people for who they are and appreciate the differences that individuals provide that color our world? In public education, every student is supposed to be welcome. He/She/They should feel safe, accepted, and supported for who he/she/they are in school. But what IS happening in your schools' classrooms, hallways, and bathrooms...when the words "hey f-g" or "you're so gay" ring out? Or a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) awareness poster is ripped down off the wall? Do you talk with your staff about addressing these issues? Do you role play them in your leadership meetings? Your culture may not be as accepting to all as you truly thought it was. How are you going to assess and ensure that everyone is accepted and feels safe under your watch? 

We have had our fill of personal agendas, politics and values recently. Both verbalized and written, these claims can run deep, sometimes making no sense or having no purpose if we really think about it. Personal agendas find there way of crowding out common sense.

 How lucky we are to live in a time and in a place where youth voices sharing their viewpoints and perspectives, can snap adults back into reality. Listening to their personal stories * confronting challenges, generates avenues for dialogue and opportunities to check our own bias. Establishing caring, respectful environments in our schools creates openings for everyone to engage in acceptance. Support from the broader community and equal protection from our laws can affirm dignity and grace, raising everyone up. It is our job as educators and administrators to model and lead it!

 *You are invited to engage your schools and community in the conversation by viewing the documentaries and downloading the facilitator guides at no charge from Thank you!