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Published in Print: September 30, 1998, as ECS President Newman Announces Plans To Step Down

ECS President Newman Announces Plans To Step Down

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As the president of the Education Commission of the States, Frank Newman has relied on humor, intellect, and diplomacy to help scores of state leaders navigate through the toughest school issues of the day.

Now, Mr. Newman wants to write a new chapter in his life.

After 13 years at the helm of the Denver-based education policy clearinghouse, Mr. Newman announced last week that he will step down from the post as soon as a new president is picked, probably next spring.

Frank Newman

In a telephone interview, the 71-year-old former University of Rhode Island president explained that it is simply time to move on.

"The organization is strong, and we are in good shape financially," Mr. Newman said. "It's an opportunity for me to get back to writing and to work hard on other projects. I'm anxious to do that."

Mr. Newman has already reached an agreement with the Pew Charitable Trusts, a Philadelphia-based foundation, to head up an in-depth analysis of policy issues in postsecondary education.

But he said he also wants to spend more time with his wife, Lucile, who lives in Rhode Island. The Ocean State has remained Mr. Newman's home despite the long commute to Colorado.

"My wife and I actually like each other," he quipped. "We would like to see more of each other."

'Back to Life'

Mr. Newman took over the ECS in 1985 at one of the organization's lowest points since its 1966 founding as an interstate planning group for school issues.

The commission had just lost a lucrative and prestigious contract for administering the National Assessment of Educational Progress. And it had been without a leader for nearly half a year.

"When he took it over, ECS was in bad shape. He made it better," Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa said in an interview. Mr. Branstad, a Republican, was the 1997-98 chairman of the ECS, which alternates between Republican and Democratic chairs. "I think the organization benefited greatly from his leadership."

Several other people close to the commission said that Mr. Newman focused the group on issues of importance to state policymakers, such as academic standards.

At the same time, he drew on his connections in the university and research communities to help line up grants and projects that enhanced the profile and financial well-being of the ECS.

Today, the commission has 61 employees and an operating budget of $9 million.

The group's 364 commissioners include governors, legislators, and state school board members from its 48 member states.

Montana and Washington are not ECS members.

"In my opinion, the hiring of Frank Newman brought ECS back to life," said state Sen. David H. Steele of Utah, a Republican and former ECS officer. "It had gotten off to a good start, but it was dragging and he brought it back."

Gov. Branstad also praised Mr. Newman for embracing an internal audit last year that was perhaps the most thorough review ever of the organization.

The audit found that the ECS was in good shape financially, but that it needed to refocus the broad scope of its efforts and trim its foundation work.

"There were some internal problems that needed to be dealt with," Mr. Branstad added. "But Frank Newman did not react in a defensive way. He asked how can we respond and make the organization better."

'Wonderful Time'

Given his long tenure, not everyone was surprised by Mr. Newman's announcement. Still, several people who were interviewed last week added that his work in the school policy world will be missed.

Robert F. Sexton, the executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a Kentucky citizens' group, said Mr. Newman deftly helped lawmakers plot his state's far-reaching school reform initiative in 1989.

"What he did, which is his brilliance, was get people together from different backgrounds and levels of knowledge and teach them," Mr. Sexton said.

Mr. Newman said that building an organization that provides useful information and research to policymakers of all political stripes and backgrounds is among his proudest accomplishments.

"We are assiduous about being bipartisan and focused on what works," he asserted. "We are not in the business of ideology."

As for the end of his ECS tenure, Mr. Newman remarked on how fast the years have passed.

"It's stunning to me. But it's been a wonderful time," he said. "This is a great organization to be a part of."

Vol. 18, Issue 4, Pages 14,16

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