With my retirement at the end of December, this will sadly be my last opportunity to address you as NASSP CEO. I began my professional life in public education decades ago as a middle level and high school social studies and English teacher, then assistant principal and principal of a grades 7–12 open-space high school. I spent 20 years as executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association before taking the reins of NASSP in 2011. I’ve watched the pendulum of social and political movements swing more than once. Yet through all the changes, three important truths persist.

First, your leadership makes success happen in schools. Everything I have seen throughout my years in education convinces me ever more deeply of the power you have to transform our schools and transform the lives of the students entrusted to your care. As the Building Ranks™ framework reminds us, the culture that you foster each day—even in a virtual environment—reminds each person they are valued as their authentic selves.

Second, public education remains the greatest hope for our nation to realize all the potential our young people possess. It seems each day we’re fighting a new battle against those who want to turn education into just another private enterprise designed to enrich shareholders at public expense. But here’s what the privatizers don’t get: Public schools don’t serve just the student or the family, they serve the best interests of our nation. Public education was founded on the belief that gathering all people into common schools to learn as a community was essential for democracy and could be our great equalizer if we committed to making it so. Yes, we often fall short of that ideal. But rather than abandon it, those shortcomings should recommit us to building the talents of each child in our communities, regardless of race, economic level, special needs, or any other factor that might serve to marginalize them.

Finally, of all the change I have witnessed, I’m so glad to report that kids are still kids. In every generation, they have been feisty; they’ve been challenging; they’ve been smart; they’ve been emotional. And the constant that still makes me smile is their belief in their ability to change the world. I saw it as a principal, and I see it in the many students I have met through the National Honor Societies and National Student Council. We leaders are on a journey to make education more and more about harnessing their energy and making school not just preparation for the real world, but a place that supports incubators of change—the hope and the catalyst for what our world will become.

Now more than ever, the young people of our nation need strong, caring educators to lead our schools. I am proud to have been numbered among you. There is no higher calling than school leadership. To all of you who have made school leadership your life’s work, thank you for continuing the journey toward that better world all of us will share.


JoAnn Bartoletti