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  February 20, 2001

Educator Joins Neag School

The Neag School of Education has added another prominent educator to its team. John MacDonald, who served in Washington, D.C., as assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education during the first Bush administration, returned home to UConn last month.

MacDonald became a professor in residence at the Neag School's department of educational leadership - the same place where he earned his doctorate 31 years ago.

"Jack is a person of incredible integrity and experience and has achieved universal respect from democrats and republicans alike," says Richard Schwab, dean. He appointed MacDonald to his advisory board about a year ago and realized what a valuable asset he would be as a faculty member.

"By joining us, he's in a position to share his immense experience, knowledge and connections with the next generation of education leaders and with our faculty. On top of that, he's a great person and a team player," Schwab says. "We're thrilled to have him on board!"

MacDonald, who had been thinking about retiring, says one of the reasons he accepted the position was because, "The Neag School of Education has one of the strongest teacher training programs in the country." He, of all people, has the background to state that with authority.

MacDonald's career as an educator, so far, has spanned more than 40 years. He began as a teacher in Groton public schools then became principal. He served as superintendent of schools in Wallingford and in two Massachusetts school districts. In 1986, he was appointed Commissioner of Education for the state of New Hampshire, serving under Governors John Sununu and Judd Gregg. Nearly four years later, he was beckoned to the nation's capitol to become a principal advisor to the Secretary of Education on all elementary and secondary education issues.

MacDonald, who describes himself as an old Yankee, says, "It was a good time in my life to be called to serve my country. Our five kids were grown, and my wife and I were ready for a change."

When the Bush presidency ended, MacDonald was asked to join the Council of Chief State School Officers - a nonpartisan advocacy and service organization representing the nation's state education commissioners. On behalf of the council, MacDonald established the State Leadership Center, which provides information and direct technical assistance to school leaders and policymakers in every state. As its director, MacDonald crisscrossed the country to help education leaders develop standards, goals and programs for improving their schools.

"We brought them the information and resources they needed by designing teams of experts to meet their specific demands. Every school system is different," he says. "States' standards-based reform plans need to have aligned systems of curriculum, pedagogy and assessments if fair accountability is to be exercised. You have to look at the whole picture. Are kids being taught what they are supposed to be? How are they being taught and are the teachers doing their job? And then some type of assessment and accountability for results is needed."

Now his mission is to work with Sharon Rallis and Mark Shibles, professors of educational leadership, to establish a center for education policy and leadership at the Neag School. The center, though still in the design phase, will provide unbiased information to schools and government leaders throughout Connecticut, and then eventually to the northeast states. The project replicates many of the things MacDonald had been doing the last seven years.

"We'll maintain good currency on good practice, but a big part of this center will not be just the paper. We'll have the experts who can help implement it," he says. "Land grant universities are uniquely suited to do this. If we do not have the expertise on a particular subject matter here at UConn, we do have access to people at other institutions."

For now, the design team is focusing on what the center should look like and how to fund it. MacDonald expects the project will be off the ground in about a year.

Janice Palmer