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First General Session

Ways to Lead Message Kicks off Annual Conference

“Leadership Starts Here” was the theme chosen to represent the 2016 Joint Annual Conference. And the First General Session keynote speaker utilized the slogan by adding two goals for members and guests to apply to their daily lives:

“See all students and staff for who they are.”

“Choose ‘turbo’ action over victim thinking.”

Mawi AsgedomMawi Asgedom began his life in Ethiopia but has lived most of it in Illinois. Through a refugee relocation project, his family moved to Wheaton, where they had to learn how to assimilate into Midwestern suburban culture. His parents did not read or speak English, a fact that he used to colorfully punctuate the awkward moments of his early family life.

But he overcame their limitations and excelled at academics. Asgedom eventually attended and graduated from Harvard University. A strong family work ethic also led him to start his own education leadership firm, Mawi Learning, which offers online and blended training. A free book and website was offered to those in the audience to explore those options in more detail.

The thrust of his message centered on how to change the focus of the day-to-day challenges in the classroom and board room. By refusing to enter or be distracted by “victim” conversations and excuses, education leaders are free to concentrate on their resources and how to creatively use them, he explained.

“You (already) have the power to change lives. Stay on mission and stay out of the traps,” he said.

Asgedom effectively used several audience participation activities to emphasize his point. This included asking each person to greet the person next to them as if he or she was the person that they had always wanted to meet. He emphasized the need to not overlook anyone, staff or student.

Phil PritzkerLater, he used a jar of colored gumballs to demonstrate how to utilize all resources that are available to a school leader. “When you focus on the problems and obstacles, you lose access to your resources,” he said. His answer is to figuratively find and hit the “turbo” button available to everyone.

Asgedom was welcomed by IASB President Phil Pritzker, who opened the 84 th Joint Annual Conference of school boards, superintendents, and school business officials. GentzelHe noted that the conference theme was chosen because it was short, memorable, “but more importantly, relevant to those who come to this conference to become more effective, responsible, and confident school leaders. Whether you’re just starting your career or are a veteran of this annual event, we believe that you’ll leave here better informed, better equipped, and better prepared to do your job,” he said.

Military AcademyNSBA Executive Director Tom Gentzel also addressed the crowd, thanking Illinois for its reputation as a leader in public education initiatives. “What really matters,” he said, “is that local governance works when local leadership teams work together.”

The first of three general sessions was also used for several award presentations. LaMoille CUSD 303 received the David Binotti Risk Management Award from the chairman of the Workers’ Compensation Self-Insurance Trust. Risk AwardTwo other districts, Meridian CUSD 15 and Community HSD 94, were honored with Awards of Distinction in the annual Exhibition of Educational Environments. The honors were shared by their architectural firms, BLDD Architects, Inc., and DLA Architects, Ltd., respectively.

Monticello Middle School Jazz EnsembleSeveral student groups also participated in the opening session. It was preceded by several numbers performed by the Monticello Middle School Jazz Ensemble, and followed with posting of the colors by the Phoenix Military Academy, and the National Anthem, performed by honor students from Cooper, Holmes, and London Middle Schools, Wheeling CCSD 21.


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