Federal

N.C. Educator To Head Council Of State Schools Chiefs

By Lisa Fine — April 11, 2001 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

G. Thomas Houlihan, a North Carolina educator who served as the senior education policy adviser to that state’s former governor, James B. Hunt Jr., will take the helm of the Council of Chief State School Officers this summer. Some educators say the appointment, announced last week, could usher in a more centrist era for the Washington-based association.

G. Thomas Houlihan

Mr. Houlihan, 50, will become the new executive director, replacing Gordon M. Ambach, who is retiring after 13 years. Mr. Houlihan will lead the lobbying and support group for state superintendents and commissioners of education in its efforts to shape federal and state education policy.

Although he served under a prominent Democratic governor, Mr. Houlihan said he hopes to find a political common ground on the issues the council faces.

Some Republican and conservative education leaders have criticized the group over the years for what they see as a tendency to favor Democratic positions. In 1995, three state school leaders broke off from the group to form the Education Leaders Council, which now includes the chief school officers of eight states along with local school district officials.

“My intent is to move away from divisiveness,” Mr. Houlihan said last week. “I grew up in a family of all Republicans, and I did work for James Hunt, which I am very proud of. I clearly believe it is not about being a Democrat or a Republican. There are enough similarities in the issues facing all chiefs.”

Mr. Houlihan, who plans to start his new job in July, has had experience on the front lines of education as a teacher and principal in North Carolina. He moved on to serve as the superintendent of the Johnston County and Granville County school systems in the Tar Heel State, as well as the associate superintendent for the Alexander County schools there.

From 1993 to 1997, Mr. Houlihan served as the chief lobbyist and spokesman on education issues for then-Gov. Hunt, as well as his liaison to state and national education groups. Mr. Hunt built a national reputation as a leading “education governor” before leaving office this year.

Business Interests

Since 1997, Mr. Houlihan has been the president and executive director of the North Carolina Partnership for Excellence, an organization that fosters partnerships between business leaders and educators to improve public schools.

CCSSO President Peter McWalters, Rhode Island’s commissioner of education, said Mr. Houlihan was a natural pick for the job. His background can help the organization meet its goal of focusing on developing state-level policy, in addition to influencing federal education policy, Mr. McWalters said.

Since Mr. Ambach, a former state education commissioner in New York, announced his impending retirement a year ago, the council has conducted a nationwide search for his successor. Mr. Houlihan was picked from a pool of 23 applicants, the group’s president said.

“The fit here is perfect,” Mr. McWalters said. “He is from the industry but not a chief. He has had extensive experience as an educator, but also has state experience in policy development. Then he’s gone on to work with business models and quality assurance.”

Mr. McWalters said one key priority that the group faces is promoting the academic- standards movement, which has come under increasing criticism. Mr. Houlihan can bring to that task his experience in helping to shape the standards and accountability systems in North Carolina, where he promoted the use of state standardized testing to measure academic results, the Rhode Island commissioner said.

Michael E. Ward, North Carolina’s superintendent of public instruction, said he has worked with Mr. Houlihan since the two started their careers as teachers in North Carolina. He said that as a district superintendent, Mr. Houlihan showed his desire to stay in touch with the classroom by keeping his promise to visit a school every day.

“Some leaders are visionaries, some are capable at implementation, and some are good at persuading others,” Mr. Ward said. “Tom is a master of all of those things we associate with strong leadership. He is a facilitator and a consensus builder.”

A version of this article appeared in the April 11, 2001 edition of Education Week as N.C. Educator To Head Council Of State Schools Chiefs

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Fed's Education Research Board Is Back. Here's Why That Matters
Defunct for years, the National Board for Education Sciences has new members and new priorities.
2 min read
Image of a conference table.
vasabii/iStock/Getty
Federal Opinion NAEP Needs to Be Kept at Arm’s Length From Politics
It’s in all our interests to ensure NAEP releases are buffered from political considerations and walled off from political appointees.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal Feds Emphasize Legal Protections for Pregnant or Recently Pregnant Students, Employees
The U.S. Department of Education has released a new resource summary related to pregnancy discrimination in schools.
2 min read
Young girl checking her pregnancy test, sitting on beige couch at home.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Federal Conservatives Hammer on Hot-Button K-12 Education Issues at Federalist Society Event
The influential legal group discussed critical race theory, gender identity, and Title IX.
6 min read
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at the Phoenix International Academy in Phoenix on Oct. 15, 2020.
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was among a phalanx of conservatives addressing K-12 issues at a conference of the Federalist Society.
Matt York/AP