Two weeks ago, the District Administration Leadership Institute hosted its latest Superintendents Summit in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. And if you were to ask attendees about their experience—which we did—they’d tell you they left inspired and reignited, ready to return to their communities with the ideas and takeaways from conversations they had throughout the event.
If you couldn’t make it, here’s what you missed.
“[W]e’ll keep on transforming the narrative of leadership, infusing it with the indomitable spirit of women,” Amy Dujon, director of the DA Leadership Institute, wrote in a LinkedIn post highlighting the organization’s latest superintendent networking opportunity for female K12 leaders.
The summit began with the first-ever Lead-HER-Ship event where innovative female leaders engaged in authentic discussions about how to navigate the challenges and barriers that come with being a woman in educational leadership.
Superintendents Bhavna Sharma-Levis, Lisa Leali, Diamond Lake 76 and Lake Bluff Elementary School District 65
The following day, two passionate female superintendents took the stage to discuss what it means to elevate women in leadership. Bhavna Sharma-Lewis, superintendent at Diamond Lake 76 in Illinois, and Lisa Leali, superintendent at Lake Bluff Elementary School District 65, encouraged female leaders not to apologize for being “authentically you.”
Sporting her silver sparkly boots, Sharma-Lewis announced to the crowd that she doesn’t look like the average superintendent, nor does she care. In the superintendency, women are bound to face a variety of challenges among their peers and overseers, including ageism, sexism and racism, each of which she said she has experienced throughout her career. But both presenters expressed the dire need to lead with boldness and find a strong network of other female leaders who support you so that you can create and lead a climate that inevitably helps you recharge your entire organization and create the best version of you.
Speakers who inspired
Dr. Baron Davis, former superintendent, Richland School District II
The afternoon kicked off with a passionate presentation from Baron Davis, former superintendent at Richland School District Two in Columbia, South Carolina, who is now the founder and chief executive officer of the Neogenesis Group, a solution-focused and outcome-driven educational think tank and consulting firm.
“See your students for who they can become, not what they are,” served as the foundation for his presentation. Davis expressed the importance of hiring Black male educators and elevating them to visible positions that play an essential role in helping students of color understand their “why” while guiding them through their secondary education journey.
Kimberly Vaught, former turnaround principal, Charlotte-Mecklenburg
“Not on my watch,” began Kimberly Vaught, who most recently served as the turnaround principal in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District at Allenbrook Elementary. In her speech that followed, she expressed the need for education leaders to serve with “audacity.” Educators should have the audacity to ensure no child is left behind. Be bold in your efforts to connect with every student, but understand that it does in fact require hard work.
Superintendent, Quinten Shepherd, Victoria Independent School District
“How does it feel to be wrong?” is the question Quinten Shepherd, superintendent at Victoria Independent School District in Texas, posed to audience members at the start of his presentation. He was quickly met with responses such as “self-doubt,” “anger,” and “frustration,” among others.
It was at that moment that he reminded the crowd, “I didn’t ask how you felt when you realized you were wrong. But how does it feel when you’re wrong?”
That’s when folks realized that it in fact feels good… in the moment. Leaders might often find themselves leading incorrectly without ever realizing it. Shepherd and his Chief Innovation Officer Melissa Correll spoke about how leaders can find a balance between staying true to their authentic selves while also adapting their leadership style to fit the needs of the specific situation they’re in.
Superintendent Iranetta Rayborn Wright, Cincinnati Public Schools
The final day of the summit kicked off with Iranetta Wright, superintendent at Cincinnati Public Schools, sharing what she defines as her “recipe for success.”
Wright was the first superintendent in nearly 20 years who had no connection to Cincinnati when she took the position. Her arrival was concerning for many throughout the district, many of whom she says weren’t accepting of such a drastic change in leadership.
“I lost 12 principals,” after she was hired, Wright noted. “It’s so exciting!” That statement doesn’t refer to the principals departing, but the fact that those who replaced them “are on their game.” Wright says new—and current—superintendents should have a plan in mind.
“You want to identify the areas of focus,” she told leaders in the room. “You should start with your basic ABCs: academics, behavior and culture.”
One of the primary ways superintendents can address each of these categories, said Wright, is by working with their principals on how to leverage data. At the end of the day, these are the people who are in the schools each day driving these strategies and initiatives.
As for superintendents, you too should be walking your schools, daily, helping your principals thrive as “instructional leaders.”
“I block my calendar from 8:30 am to 11:00 am every day,” Wright told the audience. During those hours, she makes unannounced visits to her schools with the intention of observing how her building leaders and educators are living out the district’s goals.
Each of these lessons shared, in addition to the incredible networking opportunities attendees enjoyed, will no doubt have a profound impact on the work of each leader who attended the event.
Leaving reignited and recharged
Georgette Bubar, director of District Systemic Support Solutions in the Instructional Services Division at Region 4 Education Service Center in Houston, Texas, said she’s going to be taking back the inspiration she gleaned from other leaders who are “relentlessly optimistic” in their pursuit to advance student outcomes.
“They don’t allow their environment or climate to minimize their mission,” she said. “I’m excited to share that.”
Maura Horgan, assistant superintendent at Newark City Schools in Ohio, remarked that gatherings like these are always helpful for district leaders.
“It’s always helpful collaborating,” she told DA. “There’s always something new to learn,” despite having similar job responsibilities with others who are attending.
“You might think you’re doing something right—until you hear how someone else is doing it.”