The Forum for Western Pennsylvania School Superintendents (The Forum) is among the oldest regional superintendent forums in the nation. In its nearly 20 years of existence it continues to provide customized professional development experiences for school superintendents within the School of Education’s Department of Administrative and Policy Studies. Richard C. Wallace founded the group and modeled it after the Danforth Foundation’s Forum for the American School Superintendent. Over the years, The Forum and the School of Education have engaged in a reciprocal and advantageous relationship.
Forum Executive Director and Professor Jerry Longo states: “Our Forum is about these things: advocacy for children and youth, collaboration and collegiality among school leaders, mentoring new executive school leaders and becoming masters of our complex profession.”
Membership in The Forum is by invitation and is limited to practicing chief executive officers from public school districts, intermediate units, charter school districts, and parochial school districts in western Pennsylvania. Financial support comes from member dues and from grants received from the Grable and the Buhl Foundations.
Twice annually The Forum meets around a theme, examples include:
- Ethical Leadership in Trying Times
- Equal Isn’t Always Fair: A Bridge to the Simulated Society Experience
- The Influence of International Issues in the Curriculum
- Authentic Leadership: Identity & Integrity
- Imagination, Innovation, Creativity, and Leadership
- Transforming the High School
During one retreat, the superintendents focused on issues of creativity and imagination. Members visited metropolitan Pittsburgh and observed cutting edge innovation at MAYA Design, The Tech Shop, Carnegie Mellon University, and Schell Games. Previously they had taken a behind the scenes look at the corporate headquarters of American Eagle Corp. and processed what the world of work might look like for our students in the years ahead. In a related activity, a group of the superintendents took a bus ride to visit The Downingtown STEM Academy in eastern Pennsylvania, bringing back new ideas and possible innovations.
When examining issues of high school reform, Forum superintendents arranged for students to visit schools both like and unlike their own to observe first-hand school culture, curriculum and instruction, and issues of equity and school funding. When those same students and their principals then participated in a professional development retreat it became one of the most compelling events in Forum history. Subsequently, the superintendents participated in a simulated society (SIMSOC) for three days, becoming for many, an emotional journey into a world of "have-nots" and limited opportunity.
All Forum retreats conclude with a reflection (The KIVA) where the keepers, or take aways, from each experience are personalized. Over the years, members have internalized such gems as the Rule of Three No’s from Captain Albert Lord, “Give me an opportunity to say no to you twice and if really important ask a third time.” Dr. Devra Davis’s African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Associate Dean and Professor Michael Guzenhauser’s saying, “Working for equity should be a big tent effort.” And, from author Tom Friedman, the Chinese reflection, ”When the wind changes direction there are those who build walls and there are those who build windmills.”
But it may be the Benard quote brought to us by Department of Administrative and Policy Studies Chair and Professor Mary Margaret Kerr that captured The Forum’s essence in our advocacy for children and youth: “An ethic of caring is obviously not a ‘program’ or ‘strategy,’ but rather a way of being in the world, a way of relating to youth, their families and each other that conveys compassion, understanding, respect, and interest.”
The story of The Forum is long and complex. After nearly 20 years and 37 retreats, The Forum continues to thrive. Its membership of 50 school superintendents is now younger and less experienced than it was a decade previously. Its thorough system of evaluation indicates that it serves an important purpose in the professional and personal lives of the region’s top school leaders. A monograph is planned to discuss its history and lessons learned.
For more information regarding The Forum for Western Pennsylvania School Superintendents,
please contact the executive director:
Dr. Jerry Longo
Clinical Associate Professor
4320 Posvar Hall
School of Education
University of Pittsburgh
Phone: 412 -648-1937