I was honored to be invited to share some memories of the late Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester at a celebration of his life on August 28th at Harvard’s Memorial Church. He was a dedicated educator and a friend to MBAE and the business community. Since I was asked to speak on behalf of the business community, I am sharing my remarks below.
We could have been adversaries – but I’m glad we were allies instead. Mitchell Chester respected and valued the opinions and perspectives of all stakeholders, including those of the business community. If anything, he wanted more engagement from us, not less. He accepted criticism with grace and, sometimes gratitude. He was also not hesitant to challenge MBAE and others when he thought we could do more to help achieve our shared goal of preparing all students for future success.
Mitchell listened, and was always willing to debate and discuss our ideas and positions, especially when we disagreed. As a matter of fact, the last time I saw Mitchell was at a meeting where we had a difference of opinion. I don’t think either of us would have wanted it any other way.
He considered it his job to hear and consider all points of view and welcomed a challenge, never making it personal. When I told him four years ago that MBAE wanted to review the status and future direction of education in Massachusetts, he embraced the project. He offered ideas, support and a readiness to deal with whatever findings came out – complimentary or critical. These qualities made him a great leader and Massachusetts students were very lucky to have had him promoting their educational interests. I am certain that his impact will be felt in unexpected places for years to come.
Although Mitchell was data-driven and influenced by empirical evidence, he put great weight on experience – both his own and that of educators in our schools. What he had no patience for were excuses. Every time I heard him issue a call to action, it included a clear consistent statement of urgency and focused on excellence for all children – even if his direction caused discomfort to adults. I felt proud and grateful that he was my state’s Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Agree or disagree, Mitchell considered what everyone had to say but ultimately made decisions that put the children he was responsible for educating first. His courageous and steady leadership will have long and lasting benefits our state’s students and those of us fortunate enough to have worked with him. I’ll miss his wisdom and guidance – and his dry sense of humor. But, I am thankful for the opportunity to have been even a small part of the progress he made during his decade of service to the Commonwealth.