As Karen Gallagher sits comfortably in her 11th floor view office, the new dean of the USC Rossier School of Education sounds like an enthusiastic architect about to construct a masterpiece.
Redesigning, reconfiguring and building upon the school’s respected reputation are among her goals – not to mention making it the nation’s No.1 graduate school of education in the country.
“Over the next four to six months, I plan to bring together our faculty, staff, school-district people, alumnae and students to start planning some changes,” says Gallagher, former dean of the School of Education at the University of Kansas. “As a team, I think we can make some incredible accomplishments.”
Gallagher, a Washington state native, was wooed to USC by Lloyd Armstrong Jr., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. She started her new job as dean on Aug. 28, the first day of class for students.
“Karen Gallagher has the experience and drive to take USC’s Rossier School of Education to the next level of excellence,” Armstrong says.
Despite interviews with two big-name Midwestern universities, Gallagher picked USC for its pioneering spirit and commitment to excellence.
“USC has made fantastic changes in the past decade, and I believe there’s a lot more ahead,” Gallagher says. “This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I liked what I saw at USC.”
Working in concert with her 40-member faculty, Gallagher hopes to narrow the school’s concentration to a few key areas.
“In the past, too often we have succumbed to the temptation to try to be all things to all people,” she says. “Frequently, if we thought we needed something, we would develop a program. It was carried to an extreme, and we have practically ended up with a separate program for every faculty member. We lack a sharp focus. We need to sit down as a group and ask, ‘What can we do, and what programs are worthy of committing resources?’”
“Redesigning Excellence in Urban Education” is the school’s motto and mission, one that Gallagher plans to turn primary attention to by working with Los Angeles Unified School District as well as suburban school districts.
“Our commitment is to urban education,” she says. “We want to be the school of education that students and faculty are clamoring to join and want to work with because of that focus.”
As she did in Kansas, Gallagher is looking to strengthen the school’s programs and raise its rankings.
“Americans are very keyed into rankings – we have them in football and basketball. We have them in colleges. My goal is to make USC’s Rossier School of Education the top school. I intend to make sure we get our work and name out there for all to see.”
Gallagher is among a small fraternity of university deans who have actually taught in public school classrooms. She got her start in education in the 1970s as a language arts, social studies and speech teacher and later served as a principal in the Washington state public schools. She also worked in the North Carolina and Indiana public schools.
She taught educational administration at Loyola University of Chicago and the University of Cincinnati. She later became director and senior policy consultant to the Ohio Commission for Education Improvement.
In 1992, she was named associate dean for undergraduate studies in Cincinnati’s College of Education before joining the University of Kansas as dean in 1994.
Gallagher has worked for years in education reform, making presentations on teacher training and development across the country and abroad. The first step to achieve such reform is to reach out to the urban community, she says.
Along those lines, Gallagher wants to offer continuing education in a range of subjects to working teachers in Los Angeles.
“The way to impact the system is not only with new teachers but teachers already in the classrooms,” Gallagher says. “If teachers want to learn more about assessment, we can give a course on it here or at their school. Not everything has to be a master’s degree. We can give certificates. The Marshall School of Business does this really well – professionals can come and take five or six classes and earn a certificate.”
And she intends to provide the necessary tools for her faculty and staff to build a No. 1 school of education.
“We can’t expect great things from our faculty without providing support,” Gallagher says. “We need to hear their voices and concerns. Together we’ll work hard toward consensus.”
One of Gallagher’s success stories has been in securing and maintaining grants. At the University of Kansas, grant funding went from $4 million in 1995 to $18.2 million in 1999.
Her goal for the Rossier School is to quadruple the current $3 million in annual grants to $12 million by 2003. “We need financial stability,” Gallagher says. “We’re very tuition-driven right now. We need to go after more grants and contracts.”
At present, faculty members are responsible both for conducting research and managing grants. Gallagher plans to hire a staff to manage the grants and provide additional organization and structure.
“Right now having a grant is almost seen as punishment by some faculty members,” Gallagher says. “We need to help the faculty manage the grants and hook up with funding agents. If they have ideas, we can help them find a funding match. I met with a faculty member last week who got a grant but is going crazy managing it. That shouldn’t be the case.”
Gallagher and her husband recently settled in a home perched on a hill in the Mt. Washington district. She’s managed to negotiate the congested Harbor Freeway successfully and is awe-struck by Los Angeles’ ethnic mix, vast cultural offerings and overall vitality.
“What’s so wonderfully different about Los Angeles – compared to Kansas – is the diversity. When I’m in traffic, I just soak up the atmosphere. I drive through Chinatown every day, and it’s like being in another world. It’s a wonderful and enriching experience.”
Gallagher’s friends weren’t so sure about her move to Los Angeles. “They thought I was moving to Sin City, and they just couldn’t understand. They were so wrong. This is a melting pot full of interesting people. Los Angeles represents the future.”
While Los Angeles’ population is booming, Kansas and the Midwest are losing young families to larger cities, Gallagher says.
“The resources are here in Los Angeles,” she says. “I’m not just talking about money, but people resources. Los Angeles is on the cutting edge, and USC is right there along with it. I want to be here to be part of the excitement.”