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Alumna favors preventive school law in Orange County

by Andrea Bennett
Margaret Chidester wanted to make improvements in education policy. (Photo/Dan-Dorian Druhora)
Margaret Chidester wanted to make improvements in education policy. (Photo/Dan-Dorian Druhora)

Between rows of generic gray office buildings in an Irvine, Calif., business park, stands a distinct sign in bright cardinal and gold reading “Law Offices of Margaret A. Chidester & Associates.”

Inside her office, Margaret “Maggie” Chidester EdD ’95 displays USC school spirit with equal enthusiasm. The firm is decorated in USC paraphernalia, with an entire wall devoted to her alma mater that she calls the “Trojan brag shelf.”

Chidester opened the Orange County law practice, which is dedicated exclusively to the representation of public school districts and education entities, in 2000. Her husband, Steven, is the firm’s managing partner. The firm represents more than 50 school districts, charter schools and regional occupational programs throughout California.

Beginning her career in education as a bilingual primary teacher, Chidester wanted the opportunity to make a wider-reaching impact on students.

“As much as I loved and still love teaching, the ability to make significant improvements in education policy is limited,” she said. “I enjoy intellectual challenge and wanted the in-depth knowledge represented by the EdD to better assist schools to resolve the complex policy issues they deal with daily.”

Teaching full-time by day, Chidester completed both her law degree and Master of Arts in educational administration in the evenings.

A practicing attorney since 1980, she worked with school superintendents and was looking to gain additional expertise in education. One of her clients, Maury Ross, was a superintendent and USC professor who recommended USC’s EdD program to Chidester.

“EdD students are educational practitioners. There is strong emphasis on applying educational research to the problems we encounter in practice,” she said. Chidester’s dissertation on superintendent employment contracts earned the best dissertation award from the USC Rossier School of Education.

Chidester is one of the school’s most involved alumnae. A member of USC Rossier’s Board of Councilors since 2000, she has taught law, policy and human resources classes as an adjunct professor in the EdD program since 1995.

She was one of the earliest donors to the Dean’s Superintendents Advisory Group (DSAG), which provides scholarship support to EdD students who aim to become superintendents. She has been giving financial support annually since she received her EdD. The 160 active and retired superintendents in DSAG also work to strengthen partnerships between USC Rossier and California school districts.

“DSAG focuses on recognizing and providing resources for outstanding education practitioners,” she said. “Superintendents mentor and support administrators and teachers in their efforts to deliver quality instruction. It is a worthy cause for donors to focus their support for education practitioners.”

In recent years, Chidester has seen school districts face some of their most trying times ever.

“The last five years have been extraordinarily challenging for school boards, superintendents, teachers and classified employees with the worst funding crisis in the history of California public schools,” she said. “Funding has always been up and down, but the extent to which schools have been deprived of essential resources in the last five years is unprecedented.”

Despite the fiscal challenges that continue to plague districts, Chidester finds the problem-solving aspect of her work as general counsel to school boards rewarding.

“We solve problems with our clients as they arise and address legal issues at an early stage before they have to spend resources on litigation and lawyers instead of instruction and teachers,” said Chidester, a proponent of “preventive school law.”

“As school funding improves, there will be new opportunities to restructure delivery of services and make the delivery of instruction more effective,” she said.

At USC, Chidester found lifelong friends and mentors in Barbara and Roger Rossier, as well as guidance from professors Robert Ferris, Stu Gothold, Lawrence Picus and Melora Sundt.

Even though four of her five degrees are from other institutions, Chidester is a wholehearted Trojan, an avid fan of USC football and tennis, and she is passionate about supporting her school.

“An essential characteristic that distinguishes USC from other universities is the Trojan Family,” she said. “There is an imperative to support fellow students and excel in your endeavors. As an adjunct professor, I am committed to supporting EdD students and staying in touch when I can support them after graduation.

“The Trojan Family is an extraordinary network unique to USC,” Chidester added. “We all benefit from it and need to nurture those connections.”

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