Top White House Officials Kick Off National Leaders Conference

Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaking to the Delegate Assembly at the National Leaders Conference.

This week, almost 200 school leaders have gathered in Washington, D.C. for NAESP's National Leaders Conference to speak up for the nation's principals and schools.

That mission is more important than ever, say two top White House officials.

"We need people to see education as an investment," said Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, in a surprise visit to NAESP's Delegate Assembly Sunday night.

At the Assembly, a gathering of principal delegates from every state, Duncan thanked school leaders for their commitment to students.

Duncan also applauded principals' dedicated involvment in the development of education policy. To better include principals' voices at the national level, he announced the Department of Education's intention to establish a principal fellowship program similar to the already successful teacher ambassador fellowship—a measure that NAESP and our colleagues at NASSP fully supports.

The Secretary also addressed the importance of early education, claim that it is the best investment America can make. “We have to get out of the catch up business,” he said.

His message was echoed by Roberto Rodríguez, assistant to President Obama for education policy. Rodríguez kicked off a full schedule of sessions Monday, calling for the country to “educate our way to a stronger economy.”

Rodriguez continued to emphasize the administration’s commitment to early education.

“We still have [only] six out of ten of our kids having access to full day kindergarten,” said Rodríguez, arguing that we can do better for our nation’s children.

Both officials also addressed the need for action in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Duncan highlighted the fact that gun violence is an everyday reality for too many children, forcing them to live in fear. Rodríguez also mentioned the need to increase access to mental health services, which could include bringing more school psychologists and mental health workers into schools to work with teachers and staff.

Despite the looming sequestration crisis that would drastically impact the federal education budget, both officials stressed that the success and well-being of America’s students is too critical to our nation’s future. Rodríguez argued that America is in a “global contest [which] begins in our classrooms; It begins in our schools.”

When speaking about what’s at stake in education, Secretary Duncan put it bluntly: "We're fighting for our country."


Roberto Rodríguez speaking to National Leaders Conference attendees.


Photos courtesy of Lifetouch National School Studios, Inc.

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