The Right Combo

April 7, 2011 — Features

By Carol Keochekian ’81

It was something akin to a perfect storm – all the right elements coming together at the right time and in the right place.

However, it wasn’t the weather that led to the naming of George J. Petersen as Dean of CLU’s School of Education. It was ability and experience intersecting with an opening at the University that produced the ideal results.

“It was a perfect match,” said Leanne Neilson, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, when asked about Petersen’s appointment. “The School of Education is very complex,” she explained. “We wanted a leader who could manage the wide range of programs, who could strengthen our partnerships with districts and provide a vision for the SOE.”

Petersen filled the bill perfectly. He had the experience, managerial know-how, credentials and charisma to succeed. He was attracted to Cal Lutheran because of its size, reputation, location, and especially its mission and vision, which aligned with his own professional and personal belief system.

CLU was also a place where Petersen could apply his extensive experience and expertise. Prior to coming to CLU, he had been a public school teacher, administrator, university professor, chair of the Department of Graduate Studies at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, and co-director of the University of California Santa Barbara and Cal Poly Joint Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership.

Leadership Expertise

Much of Petersen’s scholarly research has focused on the executive leadership of district superintendents, their beliefs, roles and work in the area of instructional leadership and policy. His work has been widely published and is internationally recognized for its quality and impact.

Because of his considerable interaction with superintendents and school boards, Neilson sees Petersen as a “very good fit” to expand partnerships with school districts – a goal the new dean shares.

The School of Education already has demonstrated success with professional development, research and service at several local schools, Petersen noted, and these relationships have improved CLU’s presence and reputation. The dean plans to build on those successes and envisions the SOE continuing “its exemplary efforts in community outreach in order to serve the educational, social, emotional and professional needs of the citizens of California.”

Petersen expects the SOE to be a leader in the preparation of professional educators and practitioner-scholars and to promote, support and maintain genuine collaborative partnerships with important constituencies including area school districts, local organizations, state agencies and alumni. He foresees CLU expanding its reach to encompass entire districts, working with counselors and administrators as well as teachers from elementary school through high school.

Tough Times for Public Schools

With public school budgets being slashed, negative media reports, and parental and governmental expectations growing, Petersen is taking the helm of the SOE at a difficult time. Yet, he remains optimistic. He contends that despite difficult constraints, dedicated school personnel are working very hard throughout the country to make education as good as it can be.

“CLU must educate students as best we can for future educational roles despite this economic downturn and unfriendly environment,” he said. “We must encourage our students and make them aware that they are highly trained and qualified to be effective teachers, leaders and counselors.”

Petersen believes he has the personnel to accomplish this vision. On the job for less than a year, he observed that the School of Education has a cadre of dedicated faculty and staff who are interested in improving their practices and applications and working collaboratively in an effort to affect students and partner schools.

“The level of care among SOE faculty is something I haven’t experienced at any other institution,” he said. “They are student focused, put students first and focus their research on improving practice.”

Scholar and Author

A scholar at heart, Petersen is the author or co-author of three books and more than 100 book chapters, professional articles, research papers, monographs and commissioned reports. He earned a doctorate and master’s degree in educational policy, organizations and leadership studies from UCSB and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, Italy.

The new dean has held faculty and administrative positions at the University of Evansville (Indiana), Bowling Green State University (Ohio), the University of Missouri-Columbia and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. From 2000-2004, he also served as the Associate Director of University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA).

The recipient of numerous awards for his leadership, scholarship and service to the field, Petersen began his career as a high school social studies teacher and was named one of 100 Outstanding First Year Teachers by the American Association of School Administrators. His many other honors include the national 2004 UCEA Distinguished Service Award, the 2008 Association of California School Administrators Region XIII Education Professor of the Year and 2008 UCSB Distinguished Alumni Award.

“The mission of CLU – educating leaders for a global society – clearly focuses in the School of Education,” Neilson related. Petersen, with his extensive background in educational leadership and his personal resonance with CLU’s mission, has a proven track record with superintendents and school boards and is a very good fit with CLU’s faculty, she added.

Simply put, CLU and Petersen produce the perfect storm.