Recapping the COSSBA Inaugural Conference 

  • Date Posted
    April 4, 2023
  • Category

Almost one year since incorporation, the Consortium of State School Boards Associations (COSSBA) held its Inaugural Annual Conference, March 31-April 2 in Tampa, Florida. Illinois was a founding member when the organization launched in April 2022. Over 100 Illinois school board members, IASB officers, and staff attended the inaugural event to connect and collaborate with school leaders from 23 member states, as well as other education business partners.  

Jumpstarting the Inaugural Conference was the Urban Boards Alliance Day on Friday, March 30. Inaugural Conference events began the next day, with the first Annual Members Meeting, multiple concurrent learning sessions, exhibit hall, and the opening keynote. Sessions, speakers, and networking continued throughout the weekend. 

Illinois Participates in First Members Meeting

IASB President Simon Kampwerth Jr. served as Illinois’ delegate for the first Annual Members Meeting for COSSBA. Each member state appoints one representative to be its voting delegate and to debate proposed Bylaws and advocacy positions on behalf of their state.  

COSSBA 2023During the meeting, Tom Bertrand, as incoming COSSBA Executive Director, gave an overview of the progress the Consortium has made in its first year of incorporation. COSSBA is now the largest national organization representing boards of public education with 23 states holding membership, and Wisconsin to join in July. In addition to members, the organization has added business partnerships and set dates for future opportunities for state associations to learn and connect. Bertrand highlighted COSSBA’s Guiding Principles, which helped structure the bylaws to be representative of all members. “Our commitment is to serve our members, the state associations,” he remarked. 

The 22 delegates present approved of a recommendation to change the number of COSSBA Board meetings to three per year. A recommendation by the Governmental Affairs Advisory Committee to reaffirm six federal advocacy positions was also brought before the delegates. Delegates adopted Positions 1-5 with the existing language and amended Position 6 on federal funding involving school choice. 

Resource Sharing 

In the multiple concurrent learning sessions offered each day of the Conference, learning tracks included governance and leadership, advocacy, school safety and mental health, collaboration and communication, legal issues, and student achievement. Presenting from Illinois were David Larson and Rebecca Sulaver from Glenbard THSD 87, sharing the district’s comprehensive school improvement model that aligns work plans. 

IASB staff members attended to offer on-the-ground support for the event. Staff volunteers included Carla Bolt, Natalie Duke, Lori Grant, Sandra Kwasa, Dean Langdon, and Chris Montrey. Nakia Hall, Kara Kienzler, and Bryan Soady also attended for learning and professional development. Hall presented two learning sessions: “The New IEP: Building Your Individual Equity Plan (IEP)” and “Leading Your Educational Equity Journey.” 


Staff collaboration is one area of focus for COSSBA services. A special track for state association programs and management provided an opportunity for IASB staff to connect and share resources with staff from other states in similar roles. Workalike groups include school board association communicators, trainers, meeting managers, government affairs, policy services, and technology.  

Inspiring Keynotes 

COSSBA 2023Through three inspiring keynotes delivered each day of the Conference, attendees could reflect on positive thinking, generational thinking, and ethical dilemmas. IASB’s Kampwerth, who was chair of the COSSBA Transition Steering Committee from April 2022 to January 2023, welcomed Friday and Saturday speakers to the stage. 

Friday’s Opening Session keynote speaker, positive leadership consultant Amy Blankson enlightened and empowered attendees to move through challenges with fearless positivity. 

Blankson is CEO of Fearless Positivity, Co-Founder of the Digital Wellness Institute, and a bestselling author. She defines optimism as the belief that your behavior matters. 

“We as humans are hard-wired to connect with one another,” Blankson said. She showed how positivity can spread in just seven seconds with an activity that filled the opening session room with 1,500 smiles and laughter.  

In her keynote, Blankson offered research-based strategies that attendees can take home to help them be better versions of themselves. “Everyone can raise our baseline for happiness,” she told attendees. Journaling, gratitude, acts of kindness, meditation, and exercise are key habits that can help school leaders be better versions of themselves. In closing, Blankson invited attendees to pick one new habit to devote time for each day. 

On Saturday, COSSBA welcomed Chuck Underwood to the stage to share strategies for understanding generational dynamics, because K-12 is entirely about people. Underwood is the host of PBS Television Mini-Series “America’s Generations” and founder/principal of The Generational Imperative, Inc. consulting firm. He is considered one of the pioneers who created, developed, and popularized the field of generational study. 

Underwood says generational study is based on the principle that formative years mold core values. Generations emerge after high school. “Until then we are trying on a constant parade of values that are handed to us from older generations,” he explained.  

According to Underwood, life in America in the last century has changed so often. In 2023, there are six living generations. Each unique core value that each generation makes influences career choices, personal relationships, and behaviors.  

Strategies such as generation-specific messaging when communicating with voters, legislators, vendors, students, families, and staff can improve board understanding, relationships, and final outcomes. Underwood used the rest of his keynote and a follow-up learning session to walk attendees through strategies and opportunities within education that apply to each generation. 

COSSBA 2023Closing the Inaugural Conference on Sunday was ABC news veteran John Quiñones reminding attendees of the transformative power of education, and the difference one person can make in a child’s future. As host of the popular TV show “What Would You Do?” he has become the face of doing the right things. He described his work as holding up a mirror, so we are all better equipped with what do with the opportunity to right a wrong. 

“After all, isn’t that the definition of a person’s character?” he asked. 

Telling his story as a child of migrant farm workers not learning how to speak English until in school and the heroes along the way that helped and inspired him to achieve his dreams, Quiñones is proof of the power of education.  

He said journalists can shed light on some of the darkest corners. Similarly, so can school leaders. 

More photos from IASB’s participation at the COSSBA Inaugural Conference can be viewed from IASB’s Facebook Page.  

Future COSSBA events include the Urban Boards Alliance Symposium on August 24-25 in Chicago and a federal advocacy event September 25-27 in Washington D.C. The next Annual COSSBA Conference is scheduled for February 21-25, 2024 in Dallas, Texas. Information about COSSBA is available at