Q & A with Jeff Gorrell, Dean of the Graduate School of Education

Posted: August 5, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Editor’s note: Over the summer, the Daily Gazette will publish interviews with 11 deans, 2 institute directors, and the vice president for University Life focusing on what was successful in their departments last year and what the George Mason community can expect this year. This is the sixth article in the series.

By Jeremy Lasich

Could you give me a year-in-review for the Graduate School of Education and talk about some of the programs that were successful?

One of the things we were concerned about this past year was that we needed to increase our visibility and enrollment for some of the programs for teachers, particularly the elementary and secondary education programs because of the teacher shortage. We worked hard at streamlining them to attract more students while maintaining the quality of the programs.

Jeff Gorrell
Jeff Gorrell

We have developed over many years, not just last year, several schools that we call Professional Development Schools. These schools in the elementary education program, for example, allow students to do a yearlong internship, to be a substitute teacher part of the year, to be supervised at practicing their teaching skills, and they actually end up being qualified as a second-year teacher when they finish. I’m very proud of those professional development schools. We are offering not only a very strong experience for people who are about to be new teachers, but we’re providing professional development for teachers who are in the school–all of them focusing their efforts on improving student success.

This year we joined The Holmes Partnership, a national organization that has high ideals and stringent requirements for membership for schools that engage in professional development school work. We had it as a goal to join the organization because we knew that we would learn a lot from other members about school partnerships, and we wanted to be a significant part of the national professional development school initiative. I’m very proud we moved that direction with our elementary and secondary education programs. We plan on doing more as the resources expand and we can add more schools.

In the past year, we chartered the Center for Education Policy, under the directorship of Penny Earley, who brings to the center national visibility, national awareness, and 25 years of experience in Washington, D.C., on issues related to education and policy. The center is already engaged in conducting policy and evaluation studies, as well as sponsoring an on-campus lecture series on important education topics.

We have also just created an Office of Education Services, which offers professional development workshops and direct services to school systems. We currently are creating workshops and other professional development activities on such topics as assessment, databased decision making, classroom management, etc. We also plan to provide data analysis and other direct services to schools requesting those services. With this office, we are living up to what we see is an important responsibility–that the Graduate School of Education be a part of K-12 school improvement. We are intimately involved in helping improve education for all children.

How did the budget cuts last year affect GSE, and how did you deal with those cuts?

Well, we had to tighten our belts some and we deferred positions that we wanted to fill until we were sure that were able. We also had to cut back on some of our computer laboratory support and combine the work of some positions to continue to support our core mission with reduced resources.

What are some of the things you are looking forward to next year?

We are working with the College of Arts and Sciences on developing some undergraduate science and math teacher preparation programs. Almost all of our teacher licensure programs are at the master’s level. Because of the teacher shortage, particularly in math and science, we are looking at ways we can start to bring more people into secondary teaching.

We are also finding ways to let undergraduates who are interested in elementary education see a more clear route from their undergraduate studies into a master’s program to become an elementary school teacher. A lot of students who come here who think they want to be a teacher look around and say, “It’s a graduate program. How do I get from being a freshman or sophomore to being an elementary school teacher?” We are trying to help make the process more transparent, even make more courses available, to help them move in that direction.

We also have some new programs of study. We have a new master’s in educational psychology starting this fall; we have a program in gifted education that is just really starting to bring students in; and last year we started a new program in travel and events management, which is an undergraduate program that is attracting more and more students.

What are some of your challenges next year?

Our big challenge is our national accreditation process. We are accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. We’ve been preparing for their re-accreditation visit for the last two years, and as it gets closer and closer the work becomes more intense. They are coming to campus on Oct. 19 and will be here for three days. For the next three months, we will be making our big push to get the final pieces together for that visit. We have high confidence in being ready for it, but we have a lot of work to do before they visit our campus.

How often are you accredited?

It has been a five-year process in the past, but effective with this visit, it will be a seven-year process.

Have you hired any new faculty members the university community should be aware of?

We have been very fortunate to attract a strong group of scholars in a number of disciplines throughout programs in GSE. Most of our hires have been at the assistant professor level, individuals from top-notch programs and with great promise in their fields, while some others are already established as influential scholars. It is impossible to single out one or two of them for special note, when so many are deserving of attention. I’d like to point out that the Graduate School of Education is deeply and historically committed to diversity among its faculty, staff, and students; we have continued that commitment in hiring a highly diverse group of talented faculty this year.

You came here in May 2001. How was your second year compared to your first?

It feels like it takes a year or so just understand what the fast-paced landscape is like. Of course that is what attracted me to George Mason in the first place–the pace, the excitement, the entrepreneurship, and the innovation. I’m living my dream job. There are so many interesting faculty and students, strong supportive staff, and an administration that isn’t afraid to say “yes” if you want to try something. That’s unique, especially for a public university.

Where do you see GSE in five years?

I see us having a much larger national reputation, not just in terms of the programs, which we already are getting, but also in terms of our research and scholarship. We’ve had a dramatic rise in external funding, and the capability of our faculty has grown over the last decade. It seems to be just zooming up. We have our sights set on achieving a larger national impact through our research, scholarship, and attention to education policy.

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