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Second General Session

Second General Session: Burgett Urges Action

One of the state’s leading experts on school leadership, author and consultant Jim Burgett, told conference attendees they can and must make a difference.

“As Steve Jobs said, we are here to put a dent in the universe. This applies in part to education,” Burgett said.

He focused especially on the role of school board members and superintendents and what they can do to help public education, saying “The school board and superintendent can’t be beat when they are running on all cylinders.”

Burgett, a former superintendent of the year in Illinois, was the keynote speaker at Saturday’s Second General Session of the 2014 Joint Annual Conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators and Illinois Association of School Business Officials.

Nelson Gray, Illinois ASBO president and moderator for the general session, urged all school officials to share their successes to help one another succeed.

Gray, assistant superintendent/business services, Des Plaines CCSD 62, also introduced Craig Schilling, recipient of the 2014 Ronald C. Everett Distinguished Service Award, which was presented by Michael Jacoby, Illinois ASBO executive director. Schilling is a past Illinois ASBO president, a former school business official and now an associate professor at Concordia University Chicago.

Also at the session, IASB President Karen Fischer introduced IASB past presidents: Joseph Alesandrini, 2010-11; Carolyne D. Brooks, 2012-2013; Christy Coleman, 2002-2003; Jerald Eiffert, 1999-2000; Nancy Elson, 1990-1991; Jonathan T. Howe, 1978-1979; Joan Levy, 1984-85; Dennis McConville, 2001-2002; Mark Metzger, 2008-2009; (Mrs.) Stanton Morgan, 1994-1995; Robert Reich, 1992-1993; Marie Slater, 2006-2007; Jay Tovian, 1996-1998; and Ray Zimmerman, 2004-2005.

Also acknowledged were IASB Executive Director Roger Eddy and Michael D. Johnson, who stepped down in 2012 after serving as the Association’s executive director for 12 years.

In his keynote talk, Burgett first discussed how to deal with complaints from what he called “CAVE people,” an acronym he uses to describe “Citizens Against Virtually Everything.” He recommended a simple two-step process to begin, again revealed by an acronym.

“You need to first think CALM,” indicating Compliment, Ask the chain of command question, Listen carefully, and Mimic or repeat the complaint.

The next step, he said, is to PASS the complaint, another acronym that starts with Pointing the complainant to the chain of command, suggesting “I would be happy to set up a meeting.” The rest stands for Avoid getting involved, Share with them why you cannot solve the problem, and Summarize all that you have said.

The next step for school board members when fielding complaints, Burgett said, is to tell the superintendent, i.e., notifying him about the complaint and the board member’s response.

This is an essential part of the job of a school board member today, which is basically to understand public perception and teach reality. “When you sense discord, bring people together,” Burgett urged. “You dent the universe by building the big team.”

Turning to the subject of state funding, Burgett said Illinois is in “one big mess.” He then detailed a list of statistics supporting that statement.

“But you dent the universe by having a plan,” he said. “Vision 20/20 is our plan, an initiative of the Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance.”

In summing up, Burgett offered the following seven ideas for improving education and thereby denting the universe:

  1. Support Vision 20/20
  2. Ask every legislator for their plan; if they say they don’t have a plan, demand it
  3. Tell them: no plan, no vote
  4. Reduce class sizes
  5. Demand that education become the priority, not the scapegoat
  6. Share with everyone the benefits of a stronger education system; start the conversation
  7. Don’t just talk; do!

“Collectively we can dent the universe,” Burgett said.


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