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Third General Session

Edison lights up closing session with message of perseverance, hope

Edison Jonathan Edison offered love, hope, and understanding as he urged school leaders to help rescue disadvantaged kids from lives of hopelessness in a moving keynote address at the Third General Session of the 2017 Joint Annual Conference.

Mixing high-energy audience participation with personal anecdotes and practical ideas, Edison offered a new perspective in a presentation entitled “Strategies for Success” or “Change Your Perspective, Change Your Life.”

“We live in a negative society. If we are going to be able to lead, we need to be able to change our perspective…to focus on things that are positive,” Edison told his audience.  

Edison discussed the excitement he felt recently after speaking to inner-city grade school students while autographing his book for them. He was told that many of the students at that school had been seen reading the book in the hallways, classrooms, and cafeteria.

Edison, a former teacher and self-described “success strategist,” said he has single-mindedly followed his dream of becoming a motivational speaker ever since he was dismissed, along with hundreds of other educators, from a school administration post in Detroit in 2002.

Turning down another job offer, Edison instead form his own company, largely because he had already found that changing one’s perspective can change one’s life.

Growing up in an environment that he called a prescription for failure, he recalled some of his early hardships. After exposing him to drugs and violence, his mother was removed from the household by the Department of Social Services when he was five. Two years later his father left to start a new family. His grandmother, Cloraine, who took on the challenge of raising him, died of cancer when he was 14.

His story includes working multiple jobs, barely graduating and dropping out of college after one year. Life began to change after enrolling in remedial classes at a community college. In 1993, he graduated with an associate’s degree and eventually earning a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

After teaching for four years, Edison became an assistant principal in Detroit Public Schools and in 2002 was named Wayne County Spokesman for Success. When that position ended abruptly, he launched Edison Speaks International.

“Sometimes in life, a setback is a setup for a comeback,” Edison said. “You see, it is never too late to become what you might have been; that’s the perspective we have to have for all of our kids.”

Since then he has shared his “Strategies for Success” with over a thousand audiences and said he continues to fine tune a program that gives children “New Beginnings.”

His advice for school leaders: “One of the things I want you to focus on: creating small successes for kids, because the brain gets addicted to success.

“Make sure you are planning for kids like me, that have talent, that have ability, that have skills, but are in survival mode—you hold the strings. If your heart isn’t in this business anymore, get out, don’t do it! Your heart has to be in it, ‘Leading by Learning,’” he said, quoting the theme of the Conference. “Kids of Illinois are depending on you to do something amazing.”

Distinguished ServiceOpening the Third General Session earlier that morning was David Hill, president of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials and business official of CCSD 93 in Bloomingdale. He presented the Ronald E. Everett Distinguished Service Award to Barry A. Bolek of THSD 113, Highland Park.

Gregory Ignoffo of Leyden Community High School District 212, received the Thomas Lay Burroughs Award as the state’s outstanding school board president from Ruth Cross of the Illinois State Board of Education. IASB president Phil Pritzker presented the Holly Jack Outstanding Service Award for administrative professionals to Clare Bourne of Crystal Lake Elementary District 47.

The session concluded the 85th Joint Annual Conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators, and Illinois Association of School Business Officials. This year’s Conference drew nearly 10,000 registrants and featured panel sessions, pre-conference workshops, general sessions, exhibits, and other leadership development opportunities for public school leaders in Illinois.


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