The School Boards are Coming, The School Boards are Coming

Annual Conference 2016

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The Conference for Public Education Leaders

School leaders don’t work in a vacuum—we all know that. While you represent your community’s voice in the education of their children, events outside your boundaries have an impact on your schools and classrooms.

Thousands of school board members and superintendents will gather this April in Boston for NSBA’s Annual Conference and Exposition. The conference is the one national event that brings together education leaders at a time when domestic policies and global trends are combining to shape the future of our students.

A national view of education—from the perspective of local school board leadership—is essential, especially now as NCLB is replaced with new federal legislation and the rulemaking that follows.

We are offering a preview of the 2016 Conference to ASBJ readers. In this special section, find out about conference speakers, educational programming, Boston site visits, and more.


Learn from and be inspired by cutting-edge thought leaders and speakers

Erik Wahl headshot

Q&A with Erik Wahl

Come and see the “Warhol of Wall Street,” Erik Wahl, in action at the School Leaders Luncheon on Saturday, April 9. Wahl pulls from his history as both a business strategist and artist, using onstage painting as a visual metaphor to his message of spurring organizational innovations and superior levels of performance.

Why are creative subjects undervalued in education?

The rewards are in the hard subjects. I was affirmed for scoring well in math so that what I did. Everyone colors and reads and writes at the age of 5. Then as adults, we go to post-graduate levels of writing and math, but drawing skills stay the same as five. Adults problem-solve on the 5-year-old level, too. Art flexes the muscles to solve complexity.

How important is art?

Art is like exercise for our creative mind; it grows our problem-solving ability. Math is mental gymnastics; our mind needs to figure out how it works so we can solve problems. That’s why we need art. Kids need to solve complex problems without a formulaic answer. It’s not just we need more fun, pretty pictures of rainbows. We need art as a fundamental element of how our complex mind works and adapts in these changing time. Things are changing faster than our academic and corporate system can keep up with. Rate of change is scary: Social media is wiping out companies. Everything they created goes away overnight; all the things we’re taught have become obsolete. That concept is scary or exciting, depending on your perspective.

How do we help children prepare for that constant change?

We need to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Growth and comfort do not coexist. We are taught to tie the boat to the dock and hold on through the storm. Five-year-olds want to push the boat out to sea. The pain of the storm is less than being tied to the dock, and the monotony of being tied to the dock. I want children to learn about what it’s like to push out to sea. Education is not a problem to be solved, it’s an adventure to be lived. There’s an opportunity for us to change course and adapt—it should be fun and exciting.

Fredi Lajvardi

Q&A with Fredi Lajvardi

Against all odds, a group of students from a Title 1 Arizona high school won a 2004 national underwater robotics competition. They weren’t competing against fellow high schoolers—they bested teams from leading universities, including MIT.

Their science teacher Fredi Lajvardi is the featured speaker at the Education Technology luncheon on Sunday, April 10. Lajvardi will share the story about his diverse team of students who were the real-world inspiration for the movie Spare Parts.

What is Carl Hayden Community high School like?

It is a Title 1 school, a school of poverty, where 98 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. Majority of parents didn’t finish high school. It’s 98 percent Hispanic, and we do have a significant portion of students who are undocumented.

What are some highlights of your luncheon talk?

I’ll tell audience the story of why we did underwater robotics. Our goal was not to win but to go there to learn. One thing we learned about robots is that we learn the most when we fail. If you are building something the first time, you learn from those mistakes and how to get it right. If you aren’t invested in learning, you have no skin in the game.

Dan Rather

Q&A with Dan Rather

Legendary broadcast journalist Dan Rather will be the opening keynote speaker on Saturday, April 9.

You attended houston public schools and you were the first of your family to attend college. what role has education played in your life?

Education has played and continues to play a key role in my life. I would not be where I am today, professionally or personally, without the many contributions made to me by so many teachers, books, and classrooms as I was coming up. Among the most important things that my public school education—primary, secondary, and public college—was encouragement and fuel for a lifetime of learning; the idea that one should continuously follow one’s curiosity and never stop reading.

What can attendees expect from your keynote address?

Well, first of all I hope to intersperse my remarks with some humor. I really don’t want to be dry, predictable, and certainly not boring. Beyond that, I plan to talk at least some about the need for new ideas on schooling to come more from the bottom up— new ideas from teachers, administrators, and students—and less from the top down—legislators and academics who tend to be far removed from the realities of classrooms.

Tony Wagner

Q&A with Tony Wagner

Expert-in-Residence at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, Tony Wagner is delivering the closing keynote address on Monday, April 11.

In Most likely to Succeed —the book and the movie—you and others say that children need to be prepared to be innovators, not knowledge memorizers. Why?

Here’s the problem: The world no longer cares how much our kids know because Google knows everything. What the world cares about is what they can do with what they know. Knowledge today has become a commodity. We no longer need the “knowledge workers” that Peter Drucker wrote about in the 1960s because computers increasingly collect, aggregate, analyze, and disseminate the information we need. Computers are doing many other things that people used to do, as well, and that trend is only going to accelerate in the future. So, in order to get a good job today, young people will need to have the skills of creative problem-solving—which is one definition of innovation.

What can attendees expect from your keynote address?

I will, of course, be exploring these issues in some detail, and I will offer specific suggestions of what school districts can do to begin to better prepare students for the Innovation Era. I also plan to show a short excerpt from the feature documentary film, Most Likely to Succeed, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2015.

Dr. Lonise Bias headshot

Q&A with Lonise Bias

Motivational speaker and life coach Lonise Bias is the featured speaker at the National Black Council of School Board Members Luncheon on Sunday, April 10.

You’ve experience crushing tragedy. how were you able to channel that pain into becoming a national speaker with a message of hope?

The loss/death of a child or children brings pain that cannot be imagined. In 1986 at the height of his athletic career, my beloved son Len died of a drug-related death. Four years later my beloved son Jay was murdered in a drive-by shooting at a local mall while on his lunch break with co-workers. My faith has sustained me for approximately 30 years to continue my work with youth and adults.

I believe the death of my two sons birthed the vision and mission for me to become an advocate for youth, families, and the community bringing messages of hope and encouragement to press through the difficulties of life.

What can attendees expect from your address?

Attendees can expect to be motivated and encouraged and leave the session knowing that all problems have solutions. The best is yet to come and hope is not extinct for the youth of this nation.

Alberto Carvalho headshot

Q&A with Alberto Carvalho

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Albert Carvalho is the featured speaker at the National Hispanic Council of School Board Members Breakfast on Sunday, April 10.

You were the first in your family to graduate from high school, and you supported yourself as a laborer. how does your past help you understand your students better?

I was born in Portugal to a big family that was “economically disadvantaged,” as we educators might say today. We were poor. We knew that our future meant work, and that with any luck, we would be working the rest of our lives. And for a large percentage of students in my school district, the same situation faces them. More than 73 percent of Miami-Dade County’s students live below the poverty line. Many are new to this country. They know that they are going to have to work for a living, as I did. I did not plan to go to college. I did not see education as a key to the future. I did not have big dreams of being an educated professional. It wasn’t until I came to America and began to work in a variety of menial jobs, that a U.S. congressman took me under his wing and guided me towards education, showing me that there was a key to my future. And I try to do the same for my students every day. I want them all to succeed and to know that education will help them live their dreams.

What can attendees expect from your address?

They will get to hear about my love of education and my fascination with the learning experience. I want them to go back to their school districts with new energy and motivation to help their students be everything they can be.

Dr. Brenda J. Child

Q&A with Brenda Child

American Indian scholar Brenda Child is the featured speaker at the National Caucus of American Indian/Alaska Native School Board Members Luncheon on Saturday, April 9.

What would you say is the biggest challenge faced today by public schools that serve native American children?

The biggest challenge we all face, including the schools that serve American Indians, is the dramatic under-performance of American Indian schoolchildren and youth. They do poorly on standardized tests in public elementary schools, and too few graduate from high school. Even here in my home state of Minnesota, a wealthy and politically progressive state with high standards of public education, something like half of American Indians who are seniors in high school do not graduate. We need to meet this challenge early, so that we set up our youngest children for academic success. I want to see Native kids not only graduate from high school, but in my classroom at the University of Minnesota, where by the way, we have an excellent Department of American Indian Studies, and teach both the Dakota and Ojibwe languages, the heritage languages of Minnesota.

What can attendees expect from your address?

I am a historian first and foremost, so I will no doubt take a long view of the history of American Indian education in the U.S. Yet it is important to talk about the present as well, and despite my comments about low test scores and graduation rates, there are some incredible bright spots today that I would like to also feature. Miigwech! Thank you!

Equity Monday
Education equity -- the measure of achievement, fairness, and opportunity in our education system -- is a pressing problem in our schools and in our society. NSBA is helping school leaders grapple with these issues with Equity Monday on April 11 at its annual conference. Glenn Singleton, a racial equity consultant, is the keynote speaker with “A Courageous Conversation about race and the impact on Achieving Equity in Schools.” Other programming includes sessions on how to advance equity for girls of color and developing equity policies to address the “opportunity gap” that exists in their districts . Also, board members will have the chance to discuss equity in their own districts. Equity Monday programming and sessions are open to all conference attendees.


Learn by Doing

Take a walking tour through Harvard Yard, then gather to hear an update on education technology from a Harvard faculty member. Build your own engineering project with materials at Boston’s Museum of Science, using museum resources aimed at getting elementary students interested in engineering. Spend a day at the Cambridge Public Schools and see technology innovations in elementary, middle, and high schools.

“Off-site opportunities introduce board members to new uses of technology to support teaching and learning,” says Ann Flynn, NSBA’s director of technology. “These visits give board members a snapshot. NSBA also offers longer technology site visit programs to give a deeper dive into the policies and practices that effectively integrate technology.”

The visits in Boston include:

  • Be Inspired! Cambridge Public Schools. Friday, April 8.
  • Fostering STEM Learning – In and Out of Schools. Museum of Science. Saturday, April 9.
  • Civic Engagement through Innovation. The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate & John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Sunday, April 10.
  • Experience the Past; Explore the Future Time. Harvard University Walking Tour & Briefing. Sunday, April 10.
  • Fab Labs - Sharing Knowledge on a Global Scale. Monday, April 11.
  • School Site Visit to TechBoston Academy. Monday, April 11.

The Experiential learning visits are ticketed events and require advanced registration. National Connection districts receive a discount. Learn more


Deep Learning

Educational sessions are at the heart of every conference. These sessions, presented by school leaders, board members, superintendents, education experts, and others, are packed with information that can help school board members and administrators do their jobs. Attendees bring back tangible solutions for problems facing their districts.

This year, educational sessions are grouped into nine strands: Advocacy, Governance and Executive Leadership, Innovations in District Management, New Board Member Workshops, School Board/Superintendent Partnerships, Student Achievement and Accountability, Study Halls, Technology + Learning Solutions, and Master Class.

Master classes feature change leaders in education who share how innovative approaches and unique leadership styles can improve student achievement. This year’s Master Class Speakers include teacher and former student duo Donna Porter and D.J. Batiste, as well as STEM advocate Christopher Emdin.

Attention, National Connection Districts: A room of your own
At this year’s annual conference, you have access to a room just for attendees from National Connection districts, and a special track of programming as well. Come in, learn about your year-round benefits from the national Connection team, meet with your peers, or just relax for a few minutes. Adjacent to the networking room is our exclusive session room, where we have lined up a set of sessions focused on leadership, equity, public engagement, and budgeting. Serving as a complement to the critical resources provided by your state association, national Connection works year-round to widen your perspective and your network. Learn more.


Changing the Story

Mississippi high school student D.J. Batiste sauntered into Donna Porter’s classroom with one goal: to get in trouble as quickly as possible. For his entire life, Batiste had been labeled a troublemaker, including getting kicked out of the Head Start program. He clearly was on the path to becoming the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy: a gang member destined for death on the streets rather than high school graduation.

The allegedly predestined path was proceeding according to plan, until the one fateful moment that changed both of their lives forever. Before he even stepped foot into her classroom, Batiste made inappropriate comments to Porter that were worthy of a discipline referral. Rather than playing a predictable role in Batiste’s life, Porter looked at the young man through a new lens. She decided that the story of his life would be forever rewritten.

Through his experiences in Porter’s class, Batiste left the path of self-destruction, abandoned the gang lifestyle, and shed the label of troublemaker. He graduated from high school and now travels the country with Porter, a 2012 winner of a Stephen Sondheim Teacher of the Year award, as they spread the message of a style of classroom management that unlocks the boundless potential of every student.

Their story will challenge conference attendees to re-evaluate every presupposition they may have about discipline and classroom management, and leave them with a renewed energy to inspire their districts. Porter and Batiste offer more than a feel-good story—they also have a toolbox of strategies to share about how a classroom environment can be transformed into a family. They will show how to equip teachers with the very lens through which Porter saw Batiste all those years ago, and encourage all to join in a revolution that has been sweeping classrooms across the nation.


'Teachers can create magic'

As the world becomes more technologically advanced, and as new professions and fields emerge, the STEM fields are quickly becoming the key that unlocks unimaginable possibilities for young people. Being scientifically and mathematically literate, and having the skill to use/create technology using engineering principles allows young people to have the power to engage in and with a world that will be very different than the one we have today.
I have found that classrooms with the most success in engaging students in STEM, and that prepare students for their future, have moved beyond strictly teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and taken a more interdisciplinary approach to sparking interest in these disciplines.
This approach, most commonly known as STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics), has become a worldwide movement and made a tremendous impact on youth engagement and general access to STEM. In my work with STEAM, I focus on art, but also on culture. I argue that the more teachers can consider the unique cultures of their students, and develop approaches to teaching that are rooted in art and culture, the more successful they will be at engaging and preparing their students for the world beyond the classroom.
The goal of every educator should be to make their teaching engaging, relevant, and accessible. However, given challenges like strict standards, assessment-driven instruction, and the socioeconomic realities for certain populations, the type of teaching I describe above seems insurmountable for many educators. Many have described the few who have the ability to accomplish this goal as having “the magic of teaching.” Teachers who have the magic of teaching are more likely to teach STEM in ways that connect young people to these disciplines. Unfortunately, too may believe that some people are born with this magic or that either you have it or do not. I disagree. I believe that teachers can be taught to create magic in the classroom. They can learn how to teach STEM in a way that captures the imagination of young people even within contexts that make it challenging. Teachers can create magic. They just need to be taught the tricks of the trade that work for their audiences. They just need to understand the nature of STEM and share it with students through the magic of teaching.

For more information on programming and registration for the NSBA’s Annual Conference in Boston, April 9 to 11, visit our conference website. National Connection districts receive a registration discount.

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