|IASB JOINT ANNUAL CONFERENCE|
2004 JOINT ANNUAL CONFERENCE
Veteran educator's advice: 'shoot for the moon'
The co-author of What Every Superintendent Needs to Know told a packed audience
at Friday's general session what every school leader needs to know: you can lift up
your schools to new heights only with a lofty vision and a tireless, passionate work
Friday's general session headliner Jim Burgett - a school leader for the past
25 years - conveyed that message through aphorisms, anecdotes and advice, setting the
theme with a quote from Les Brown: "Shoot for the moon. If you miss, at least
you'll land among the stars." But he followed the quotation with an old Japanese
saying: "Vision without action is a daydream; action without vision is a
Thus, he advised: "let the Conference change you, but don't just go home
changed, do something: make this conference the start of something big."
Burgett also shared a personal anecdote about his own childhood, when he had become the
man of the family at age 13. Overburdened with responsibilities and concerns, he happily
met up with a school counselor who changed his life. Nicknamed Mr. Ben, the counselor at
the junior high school in Highland C.U. District 5 held informal counseling sessions with
him almost every day. "He taught me how to get along with other kids ... how to
mediate family problems, and deal with my problems," problems that most 13-year-old
youngsters never face. "He taught me more than I ever knew."
Burgett reflected on his gratitude that the Highland "school board had shown the
foresight to employ counselors like Mr. Ben - while not even knowing me, they had
provided for kids like me, and in doing so, had made the difference of survival for one
kid," Burgett said.
Drawing upon another experience, that of co-authoring the book, What Every
Superintendent Needs to Know, Burgett said a savvy editor had discerned the four
themes that run through the entire book, even though it was penned quite independently by
three co-authors. The themes are: Pride, Passion, Vision and Commitment. "No leader
can achieve the best without those four components," he said.
While admitting that "times are tough, with all the talk about ISAT, Iran, and I
Quit," he advised school administrators, board members and school business officials
to "get over it, don't let it prevent you from providing an excellent learning
place for your kids."
He also admitted that school districts in Illinois are facing a monumental financial
crisis, with 76.8 percent in deficit spending at the end of the 2003 Fiscal Year. But
there is a way out, he said: "If you're in one of those districts or not, you
need to be 'squeaky,' as in 'the squeaky wheel gets the grease.'"
To begin with, school leaders must motivate others to seek funding change, Burgett
said. "If each of you gets two or three people to write a letter, that's 50,000
letters. Can you imagine the impact it would have on legislators if they received 50,000
letters one week demanding fair and decent school funding?"
Burgett urged listeners to go to the next school board meeting with a plan to promote
change. "Stop talking, start squeaking," he said. "If you don't, cuts
will ensue. We'll lose music, we'll lost art, and athletics. We'll lose the
likes of Mr. Ben," he added.
But money is not the only answer to the question of how to improve local schools, he
said. One proven answer is simply to "develop a work ethic of doing more and being
nicer." That was an institutional consultant's suggestion one time to a large
hospital, Burgett said. After all, it is the attitude that is special in great
institutions, he said, such as at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where the motto is "ladies
and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen."
"Try it. It works," he said.
"[Country music artist] Josh Logan said it best: 'You raise me up.' Mr.
Ben did it for me. You can do it for your schools," he added.
Burgett concluded with an anecdote from the Armenian earthquake that killed 30,000
people in eight minutes back in 1989. The father of one endangered schoolboy had rushed to
his son's building only to find it flattened. Devastated, all the father could think
of was what he'd often told his son: "I'll be there for you."
Recalling that promise, and spying the corner where he dropped his son off every
morning, the father rushed to the area where he knew his son's classroom would be,
and began digging. Other parents told him "it's too late." But he
didn't stop digging, he only glanced up at them and said "are you going to help
The same basic advice and answer were repeated many times over to other parents, a fire
chief, and a policeman. No one helped, but the father kept digging.
"He dug for 8, 12, 24, 36 hours," said Burgett. And in the 38th hour, with
his hands raw and bleeding, he pulled back a boulder and heard the voice of his son,
Armand, saying "Father, I told them you would be here for me." Armand and 13
other children had been trapped alive under a wedge of concrete.
"The father had never given up hope, and neither had his son," Burgett said.
"Because of that commitment the children survived."
"I doubt if anyone in this room did not feel that same commitment when they
started to get involved in their local schools," Burgett said. "But the secret
is to keep that passion," he concluded.
Burgett's presentation was preceded by the bestowal of the Risk Management/David
Binotti Award to John Garleb, board president of Valmeyer CUSD 3. The district was honored
for reducing Workers' Compensation costs.
In addition, representatives from Valley View C.U. District 365, Romeoville, and
Elmhurst C.U. District 205, were top winners of IASB Service Associates' Education
Environmental Exhibit Awards. The awards for school design were shared with just one
architectural firm, Wight & Company, of Downers Grove.
Prior to the awards presentations, the audience enjoyed a short introductory speech
from Donald Kussmaul, the President of the American Association of School Administrators.
Kussmaul, who recently retired after 25 years as superintendent at East Dubuque District
119, shared a list of daunting demographic trends highlighting the challenges facing
America's children and tomorrow's schools.
Kussmaul warned: "we must take care of democracy because it cannot take care of
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