Independence, Collaboration and Performance
A Superintendent’s Focus on Life Skills
Dr. Luvelle Brown has a vision that teaches kids to think independently, work in groups, and perform live in front of authentic audiences. Brown believes these abilities represent essential life skills that help determine the future success of students.
As the 2017 New York State Superintendent of the Year, Brown finds himself in the position to make his vision a reality. Kids in Ithaca, NY are adopting his principals and seeing positive results. According to Luvelle, a superintendent does much more than just close school on snow days; he’s a facilitator responsible for setting up students of a district with the best blueprint for academic and life success. Brown believes superintendents should recognize the importance of constant communication within their communities and take advantage of social media platforms to actively stay in touch.
Continuing our conversation, Brown elaborated on the support, joy and overall impact of a large community of professional peers. Events like the AASA Conference in New Orleans helps to bring those peers together strengthening the bonds of support that continue throughout their careers.
Dr. Berger: There are a lot of conversations around some sensitive topics but also some topics that shine a light on all the progressive approaches that we’re taking with our districts.
Let’s talk about the communication of superintendents. Take us behind the scenes and the regularity with which you engage your contemporaries in your own development as a superintendent and those that look up to you, and the awards that you’ve received in recognition.
Are we seeing more and more communication actively between superintendents who are sharing best practices, resources, and strategies? It’s a very complex role. You’re working 24 hours a day. Tell me about that communication among your colleagues.
Dr. Luvelle Brown: It’s more than a network of superintendents; it’s a network of friends. The cohort, the network, and the folks I hang with, talk with, and laugh with, are all now current superintendents. Many of us grew up together. We were teachers, assistant principals, principals, or assistant superintendents in similar or nearby districts. And what’s cool is that, now, we’re spread out all over the country.
With technologies, we’re one group-text message away from sharing a best practice, sharing a good joke, or picking one another up when something is not going well. It’s a very tight-knit group. And being in a conference like the National Conference on Education, seeing everyone together, it’s like a cool party but it’s also a professional development opportunity.
DB: There’s opportunity to look at that network ─ “We’ve grown up together but, now, we’re spread across the country”? Is it fair to say that there are probably lessons that we can learn for the next crop of leaders out there? Can we identify them better through the network that you’ve developed with your professional colleagues to say, “You know what, in ten years, this might be the group that we need to be able to support and mentor?”
LB: AASA is on the right path with that, with the various academies and cohorts that are now for aspiring superintendents and sitting superintendents. That wasn’t available ten years ago. I had to search for folks, and folks had to find me. Now, there are support networks in place to bring folks together quarterly, monthly, and almost any day using technology.
So, yes, it’s something we need to capitalize on; and it will be critically important going forward, particularly as the struggles are becoming more and more real.
There are many people out there looking to take superintendents down. And if we’re not working together and sharing best practices and growing together, it can become very easy to take them down.
DB: Do you think that members of communities around the country have an accurate portrait of what today’s superintendent is like?
LB: Most folks think I spend my time making snow-day calls and I wake up every day wondering if it’s going to snow and if I’m going to have to close school, and that’s pretty much all I do.
We have to do a better job of educating communities about what we do. And I’ve been trying to do that using Now folks have a sense of what I do because I’m posting it on If I’m in a classroom doing a walk-through, if I’m at a basketball game, or if I’m working on policy putting together a budget, folks are getting a sense that that’s what we’re doing, and why.
Yes, we, as superintendents, can do a better job. It’s not just about making the snow-day call.
DB: On the flipside of it, I’ve had conversations with technology providers that service education globally; and there’s often this sentiment of “How do we even approach a superintendent?” It’s almost like a gated community. To that same point of the community members who are just thinking that you’re sitting or making a snow-day call.
How can we more systematically and purposefully communicate what superintendents do ─ the human behind the title ─ in a way where it personalizes it, whether it inspires future superintendents and/or just gives us a more accurate portrait of education.
LB: That’s difficult. We get 400 or 500 emails a day. So anyone just sending an email hoping that we would respond may not get that response.
We do respond to relationship building at events like this ─ professional development opportunities; conferences; and workshops. Those are opportunities to build relationship with superintendents, to get close to them, to hear their thinking, and then make connections so that we can partner to solve complex problems together.
DB: It’s true. They have to get in front of you. They have to break some bread and spend some time with you.
What is inspiring you when you talk to other superintendents? What are some things going on around the country that, admittedly, maybe isn’t going on in your district just yet? Things that make you say, “My goodness, we haven’t thought about that. That’s really interesting” For you to think, okay, what might this look like in Ithaca?
LB: There are a few things. I’m really excited about what I’m seeing at some of the larger districts, particularly Baltimore County, around digital curriculum implementation. Many of our districts have moved forward to one-to-one device deployments. We have the tools in our young people’s hands. We’re allowing them to create and solve and put things on those tools.
But some of the things Baltimore County is building are part of their infrastructure or network internally. They’re partnering with other folks, like Discovery Education. Some of the things they’re putting on devices that are native are pretty impressive. And it’s a tool and a resource that no other generation of young people has ever had before.
I’m excited to see, visit, and learn more about how they’re building these tools out before even putting them into people’s hands.
DB: As you scan your own district and you see young people who are achieving great things, do you ever sit there and say that you could see the next superintendent when you’re looking at successful high school students?
LB: Oh, yes.
DB: And what qualities do they have that makes you say, “You know, that’s a young person who could really make a difference”?
LB: I see it every day in my own kids. I have a daughter and a son ─ seven and five. I don’t necessarily want them to be superintendents but I want them to have the skills that a superintendent must have.
I want them to be able to practice and want to practice independently. I want them to be able to collaborate effectively with a diverse group. And I want them to be able to perform with an authentic audience in front of them. Those are skills that every young person is going to need.
Superintendents need to have those skills every day ─ put the work in independently, work with groups, and then produce and perform in front of a group.
I want my children at home and every young person in my school district to have these skills.
About Dr. Luvelle Brown:
Dr. Luvelle Brown is the 2017 New York State Superintendent of the Year. He has served as Superintendent of the Ithaca City School District (ICSD) in Ithaca, New York since January 2011. Prior to arriving in Ithaca, Dr. Brown had experiences as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, school CIO, and district-level leader in Virginia.
During his tenure in Ithaca, the Ithaca City School District has experienced unprecedented levels of success. The ICSD graduation rate has skyrocketed from 78% to above 94% while students are reaching unprecedented levels of performance including an 8% increase in enrollment and diversity in higher-level courses, an 8% increase in attendance, a 53% increase in enrollment inco-curricular programs, a 6% increase in number of students reading on-grade level k-5, a 63% reduction in discipline referrals, and a reduction of the district’s Special Education classification rate from significantly above state average (14.8%) to significantly below (11.6%).
Specific school achievements include Northeast Elementary being named a National Blue Ribbon School, and 2 elementary schools have been recognized as a New York State Reward School. Also, Ithaca High School has moved from being on the New York State School in Need of Improvement (SINI) list to being recently recognized with GOLD distinction by Newsweek placing in the top 2% of schools in the United States.
Follow Dr. Luvelle Brown on Twitter
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