Saturday, August 22, 2015

Acceptance Speech (#getoffyourisland)


It is a tremendous honor to serve as the New Jersey State Superintendent of the Year for 2015.  Below is a copy of my acceptance speech, delivered at the May 14, 2015 NJASA Spring Conference.  Special thanks to @jhnmarcellus for the Twitter hashtag reference.

I am fortunate to have colleagues that are extremely supportive.  At my roundtable, we have vulnerable conversations and share experiences that reveal potential solutions to problems we are facing..  That was not always the case for me though. When I first became superintendent at the age of 32, I was surrounded by AWESOMENESS.  I became wired to hide my insecurities.  I believed that you don't want others to see your weaknesses. 

That thinking could not be less constructive. When I became a member and eventually the president of the Somerset County Roundtable, I opened up to my colleagues.  I realized that people aren't drawn to AWESOMENESS.  They are interested in genuine conversations. They are engaged by people who show vulnerability and that's what makes my county such a close group of superintendents.

David Brooks, NY Times, speaks of the difference between resume and eulogy virtues.  He says that “no person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own.  Individual will, reason, and compassion are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride, and self-deception.  We all need redemptive assistance from outside.”  We NEED each other!

I'm looking around the room here today and I see a lot of superintendents with less experience than me.  I urge you to ask your colleagues questions.  We have a lot of talented superintendents in this state that can offer you outstanding advice if you just ask.  Don't make the same mistake that I made.  Cal Ripken advises us "to expose your weaknesses and ask questions." For me, it has paid dividends. Being a superintendent doesn't have to be “working on an island” or in isolation.  It may be lonely in your office, but a colleague is a phone call away.

I also fell prey to the notion that the more you say, the more you open yourself up to public scrutiny. Heck, it is easier to keep a low profile by not saying anything.  But is it the right thing to do?  Have we become marred by public judgment?  Being a young superintendent, it’s easy to fall into that mentality.

Joseph Scherer, executive director of the superintendents' national dialogue, says that the greatest deficit in education is not finances, but rather LEADERSHIP.  Everywhere we go, people seem to know more about education than us, the educators.  It's gotten to the point, Scherer says, that the "public doesn't miss educators from the discussions about education."

Be a strong leader!  Weather the storm!  Hope that people will recognize the benefits of courageous decisions that outweigh the special interest outcries!  We need to amplify our voice.  Meet with your legislators and invite them to do a coin flip at a football game (as Dr. Bozza suggests).  Make suggestions to the DOE when they issue a call for comments.  Speak out against the wrongs and for the rights. I have read some incredible ideas, thoughts, and opinions on Twitter.  We need to unite these voices and build a strong refrain.  We need more conversations!  Look around the room.  Imagine the radical change we can foster in the state of New Jersey, just with the people in this room!

Thank you again for this privilege to represent our state.  And for our new superintendents, ask for help and don't be afraid to be vocal about what you believe in!  Your district hired you to have a voice.

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