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HGSE Grad to Lead Mass. Department of Education

Mitchell Chester, Ed.D’91, may be an “outsider” to Massachusetts education, but he is far from being a novice in education policy. With more than 20 years experience working in education policy, Chester was a natural choice to become the new Massachusetts Commissioner of Education.

Chester comes to Massachusetts with an impressive track record in Ohio, where he has worked as senior associate state superintendent for the Department of Education. While in Ohio, he has overseen standards, assessments, accountability, policy development, and strategic planning. He considers his lack of Massachusetts experience a plus. “I come with a broad range of experience and don’t have a particular history or loyalty to any constituency in the state. So, I’m able to come in without any obligations in terms of what I stood for, which is liberating for me because I can come as my own person,” he says.

Despite being the new kid on the block, Chester isn’t new to the Boston area. He admits it’s an “added bonus” to return to the state where he completed his dissertation work.

After working as a teacher, Chester sought doctoral work at HGSE—a choice that has proved well worth it. According to Chester, throughout his career he has continually relied on what he learned while studying administration and education policy at the Ed School. “The Ed School had a profound impact on my preparation for the work that I’ve done since,” he says. “It was a program that really provided me with a historical context of the state and federal role in education, and it really helped me to see the fact that many of the big ideas that balance local and central control are timeless.”

Some of what he has learned at the Ed School will undoubtedly come in handy when he steps into his role as commissioner in late spring/early summer. After initial assessments of the state’s education system, Chester’s has identified areas he wants to take to the next level, including focusing on the achievement gap and access to education for all children. “I want to make sure high school education truly prepares our young people in this economy, whether for higher education or the career path,” he says. Chester believes that earning a high school diploma in Massachusetts and many other states doesn’t necessarily prepare students for life after school.

In order to accomplish this, Chester says he’ll take it one step at time and focus on building relationships within the education community of the state. Undoubtedly, Chester—whose past experience spans three different states—is used to such a feat. “There’s a proverb that resonates with me: If you want to go fast, go alone, and if you want to go far, go together,” Chester says.

As for the future of education policy beyond Massachusetts, Chester says that it’s constantly evolving and he foresees his work, as well as future educators and policymakers, as truly meaningful. “Public service is very noble work in an era where public service is not valued or sought after. I don’t think you can engage in anything more noble than education and education policy,” he says. “The challenges are tremendous but that means the opportunities are large.”


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