The Forum for Western Pennsylvania School Superintendents (The Forum) is among the oldest regional superintendent forums in the nation. In its nearly quarter century 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. Founded by Richard C. Wallace, the group was modeled 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.
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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.
Twice annually The Forum membership goes on retreat and examines a topic, examples include:
- Mindful Leadership
- Healthy Employees are Better Employees
- Public Policy Advocacy: Turning Ideas into Action
- Writing and Talking to Learn
- Ethical Leadership in Trying Times
- Equal Isn’t Always Fair: A Bridge to the Simulated Society Experience
- Imagination, Innovation, Creativity, and Leadership
The Forum’s focus is on professional development designed specifically for school superintendents. Many of its programs are planned and delivered in collaboration with departments and centers from the University of Pittsburgh. The retreat on Mindful Leadership was accomplished in association with Pitt’s Center for Mindfulness and Consciousness Studies; The Healthy Employees are Better Employees program was conducted by the Department of Health and Physical Activity, and the Writing and Talking to Learn seminar was presented by the Institute for Learning at Pitt’s LRDC.
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. This program resulted in many curricular advances in the region’s schools.
At a session focused on 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.
Over the years, Forum members have made several trips to the battlefields of Gettysburg. The most recent visit, Walking in the Footsteps of Leaders, provided these school executives with an opportunity to examine the leadership challenges presented by chaotic communications and unpredictable human behavior. Working with the Gettysburg Foundation and guided by faculty from the War College at Carlisle the superintendents walked the battlefields examining the challenges and decisions faced by leaders on both sides of the battle, applying lessons learned to their own understanding of leadership.
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.” School of Education 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 Pitt Professor Mary Margaret Kerr that captured The Forum’s essence as advocates 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 42 retreats and a membership high, The Forum thrives. Its membership of 50+ school superintendents is now younger and less experienced than ever. 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.
For More Information
For more information regarding The Forum for Western Pennsylvania School Superintendents,
please contact the executive director:
Dr. Jerry Longo
Clinical Associate Professor
Department of Administrative and Policy Studies5526 Posvar Hall
School of Education
University of Pittsburgh
Phone: 412 -648-1937