​Dena R. Cushenberry 
Superintendent, Warren Township in Marion County, Indiana 
The Center for Appreciative 
Organizing in Education 
A superintendent’s annual calendar is filled with graduation ceremonies; board meetings; school visits; professional conferences; time for lobbying state and city officials; days of participating in community-sponsored partnerships; and many evenings spent attending athletic events, musicals, and art shows. The year is cramped and hectic, and superintendents have to reach not only their own expectations, but also the expectations of fellow administrators, faculty, parents, and, most importantly, students.  

This blog will attempt to show how my fellow administrators, faculty leaders, and I have moved our urban Indianapolis school district from the traditional teacher-directed classrooms of the past to a truly twenty-first century learning environment. We are personalizing learning and cultivating in students the instinct and desire to be self-directed, independent, deep thinkers learning real important stuff beyond what is taught in a traditional curriculum. And beyond even that, personalizing learning is how we might ultimately provide equitable opportunities for all students to learn at higher levels. My playbook to accomplish this transformation is as thick as any NFL quarterback’s, and the school calendar is like the four quarters of the game.

One of the most important days of the year is the opening day of school and the address to my 1750+ staff members that comes with it. And unlike most male superintendents, one question my folks are wondering is, “What will she wear?”

My husband I often go shopping together to find the perfect dress for the year’s opening ceremony.  This year, Leonard and I found a red jacket and matching red dress to go with my new favorite ladybug pin for the collar. I later reported to him that the “folks raved” about the dress. Perfect.

But more importantly, my message that day in July, the weekend before school started on our nine-week calendar, was to re-affirm our purpose as a school district and to reassert our Civility, Order, Respect, and Excellence (CORE) framework as the means by which we can best serve all children equitably and make sure teachers and principals lead a balanced life. After all, our administrators need the time to unwind with their families because leadership is hard work—you have to work at it daily to meet our high expectations for student success.

And that comment about time to unwind, by the way, earned me a second rave review from the staff.

Next Up: The First Day of School