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Winter 2010

Mama Knows Best

paul_buttenweiser_katie_buttenweiser.jpgIt was his mother Helen's philosophy: If you see something that needs to be done, do it.

So when the Ed School started looking for funding for the new Doctor of Education Leadership Program, former Harvard Overseer Paul Buttenwieser and his wife, Katie, a social worker at Children's Hospital in Boston, did just that -- they stepped up and donated one million dollars to endow a fellowship that will support one student throughout the three years of the program.

"Education is so crucial," says Buttenwieser, who became interested in the Ed.L.D. Program -- the school's first new degree in 74 years -- while serving as a member of the school's visiting committee. Sitting in on meetings and listening to faculty members, he realized that for K-12 education reform to be successful in the United States, incredible people at the top needed a new kind of training.

"While teachers are the most critical part of the educational system," he says, "having the right kind of administrative leaders is critical as well."

The tuition-free Ed.L.D. is based in practice, with students spending their third and final year in a residency with a partnering education-related organization. The doctoral degree, which will start with an initial cohort of 25 in August 2010, is designed to give students a deeper understanding of not only teaching and learning, but also the management and leadership skills needed to successfully run a school district or have a senior role at an education nonprofit, government agency, or even in the private sector.

As Dean Kathleen McCartney says, "These individuals will be successful by altering education policy debates, forging powerful public-private partnerships, and restoring confidence in schools."

Or as Buttenwieser says, summing up what he thinks the degree is for: "It's training the next Arne Duncan," referring to the U.S. secretary of education, who Buttenwieser says created many successful reforms in Chicago, where he served as CEO of the public school system before joining the Obama administration.

Buttenwieser is no stranger to philanthropy. He grew up in an activist household in New York. His mother, one of the city's first female lawyers, once worked in a settlement house and chaired the Legal Aid Society and the New York City Committee on Adoptions. She took in foster children and was a tireless defender of Alger Hiss, a State Department official famously accused of being a spy in the late 1940s. His father, Benjamin, an investment banker, was president of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York and a trustee of Columbia University, Lenox Hill Hospital, and Fisk University in Nashville, among others. Paul, along with his children and wife, started the Family-to-Family Project 15 years ago, a nonprofit that helps the homeless in Boston. He has served on the board of various art organizations, including the ART and the Museum of Fine Arts.

"Paul and Katie have demonstrated time and time again their unwavering commitment to the public good, whether it be through investments in education, the arts, or in needy local families," says McCartney. "I have also come to know Paul as an engaged advisor through his role as a member of the HGSE Visiting Committee. To borrow his words, he understands that we need real, subverting kind of change at the systemic level in order to make progress on the challenges of American public education. Through the years, I have relied on his wise counsel as we moved forward with our plans for the new doctorate in education leadership, and I am so grateful for his support."

Asked what longterm results he anticipates from the new degree, Buttenwieser is optimistic. "It is going to radically affect education for the better."

Photo by Ed Malitsky