Five questions for Jack Gillette

Jack Gillette is the dean of Lesley University’s Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Mass. Over its history, Lesley University’s Graduate School of Education has graduated more than 34,000 students from its master’s, certificate, and advanced degree programs. The school began in 1909 as the Lesley School, for kindergarten teachers, and continues today with a focus on PreK-12 education.

What was your first role working in education?
I was a social studies teacher at James Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Conn. The once flagship of that system was, at my arrival, in a very bad state – poor leadership, total white flight, gang warfare spilling into the school, and my first year there were 60 new teachers in a staff of 90. Also, the first day of work was a strike that led to jailing teachers and bad blood for years. I spent 10 years there, got successive Title I grants – we made the largest gains in reading for two years in a row.

What is one pivotal moment in your career in educator preparation that left a positive impact on you or others?
There are two. First, the slow realization of how unprepared I was despite what was then seen as a terrific program, with longer clinical time, and inductions support. Two, the chance to build from scratch a prep program at Yale for secondary candidates with New Haven Public Schools – all graduates were guaranteed employment. Candidates had to stay for two years so we had direct evidence of the effectiveness of our work. Grueling, but a needed discipline.

Why did you decide to join Deans for Impact?
AACTE by its very design is hobbled in pushing for significant changes, so I wanted a more nimble platform with more risk-taking peers. The entire structure of higher education works against accountability for program-outcome quality so outside levers are absolutely essential for meaningful change. Second, the mix of providers is also a vital element. Alumni data is essential for any meaningful change. I do not believe in transformative change but the gutsy, incremental (but meanAdd Newingful) mechanics that drive us toward where we want to be. This group can accomplish that.

What most excites you about the opportunity to transform the field of educator preparation in the years ahead?
Transformation is a term for funders. The reality is that this is a very complex organizational field, ill-designed to do any human development of teachers. No neo-liberal market intervention, no well-designed policy alone is going to be effective. What needs to line up is policy space, tied with huge increases in backroom management competency and innovation. Then the needle can move upward and more highly effective teachers can make more of a difference. While much of the focus in on urban , it is just as important to note the flaccid pace that most middle-class communities feed to their children – we systematically under educate all children, it is just that it is immediately disastrous for some.
Even given all that, we have all been humbled enough to know that no single one has the answer but together we have a good shot at making significant progress.

What is one surprising thing that everyone should know about the program you lead?
Despite all of our strengths – brand, assessment work, innovation with other providers – we are stripped down to the bone from years of down-sizing and are at risk at any moment of tumbling down to mediocre. So like many K-12 success stories of schools that out perform their destiny, we too could disappear back to part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring Q&As with all the member deans of Deans for Impact.

Jack Gillette

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