U.S. Education Secretary Roderick Paige, speaking at the 133rd annual National Conference on Education in Orlando, Florida, urged leaders of the nation's school systems to rise to the challenge of leadership. But reviews from attendees at the American Association of School Administrators conference were mixed.
"If you can be a superintendent in America, you can do anything they might bring to you," Paige told a packed room of school heads at the American Association of School Administrators (AASA)(http://www.aasa.org) conference.
Paige told stateline.org that the biggest challenge school chiefs' face is "being able to be a school leader long enough to be able to unpack your bags."
Paige left his post as Houston Schools Superintendent last month, and today (Friday, Feb. 16), he was honored with the "Superintendent of the Year" award from AASA. In accepting it, he promised his former colleagues that he will listen to them to find out what is happening in America's schools.
But school superintendents, principals and academics attending the conference had a mixed reaction to the US Secretary's remarks - ranging from commendation to words of caution.
"I appreciated his remarks asking us to stay in touch with him because we know the issues," said Daniel Domenech, Fairfax, Virginia's Superintendent of Schools.
"I was glad to hear his views on leadership," said Michael Muffs, an Assistant Professor at State University of New York at New Platz and a former school superintendent. "Since he comes form the ranks, he truly understands what leadership is," Muffs added.
Karen Case of the Texas Department of Education knew Paige when he was Houston's Superintendent. "You have to be a person with a heart for children and learning, and a financial manager of a very complex funding formula, and also a human resources manager - you wear a lot of hats," Case said, and this experience will help Paige understand the challenges of running schools, she added.
"I know that some are opposed to testing. They worry that tests become too important, and that the tests will dicate the curriculum. But that is why the federal government is giving states incentives to design their own tests...without measurement - education reform will be an illusion," Paige said.
Case, of Texas, agrees that testing demands will be a hurdle for some states. "It will be a challenge if the infrastructure is not in place, but they do have the advantage of looking to a state (Texas) that has been doing this for many years."
But Breckenridge, Colo Schools Superintendent Wes Smith was concerned with what he calls the "rhetoric" of the new administration.
"It defies federalism. The undercurrent of what is happening here is that the federal government will solve community and state problems. Are we abandoning federalism at this point? This reform is one approach and if this approach fails...we will suffer for having put all our eggs in one basket," he said.
The focus of the three-day AASA conference is on enhancing school leadership, raising student achievement and drawing more people into the education field.