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Dean LaVonne Neal greets, challenges faculty, staff at annual College of Education retreat

August 24, 2010
"LaVonne I. Neal"

LaVonne I. Neal

It’s a new day – make that an “NIU” day – in the College of Education.

Why? Because LaVonne I. Neal, who in high school set a U.S. record in the 80-meter hurdles, has hit the ground running – and she’s running fast.

Dean since July 1, Neal kicked off the college’s All-College Retreat, peppering her Aug. 16 address with generous doses of national research statistics, motivational messages and humor.

Neal said the year ahead brings an NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) site visit in late October as well as implementation of the college’s strategic plan, development of a strategic enrollment management plan and diversification of revenue. She underscored the need to link the college’s vision, mission and goals to the budget.

She cited national research related to a critical challenge in the field of education: soaring high school drop rates of America’s youth, particularly youth of color.

“Student success rates are lower now than they ever have been,” she said, showing education-related clips from President Obama’s first State of the Union speech in 2009.

An estimated 74 percent of Illinois students graduate from high school, she said, asking rhetorically, “What profession would allow such a disservice to a quarter of its constituents?”

NIU will provide the remaining 26 percent with a greater opportunity to succeed academically, Neal said, and it has the faculty and staff to make that happen. Quality teaching methods, she said, complement the abilities of students and spark their genius. 

“No one will out-teach” NIU’s College of Education in preparing tomorrow’s “TLC” (teachers, leaders and counselors), she insisted, challenging the college to help “eradicate” the gap and not just close it.

The new dean is confident that will happen but made it clear that success will not come without some growing pains.

Neal described herself as a “mission-focused, data-driven leader” who expects any request submitted to her office by college faculty and staff to provide solid data evidence to ensure informed decision-making. 

Her empowerment comes from a 25-page “leadership profile” created by members of the search committee with input from college and university administration, which explicitly informed applicants that “this is not a status quo position.” 

Neal said she is taking that charge seriously, vowing to work with “energy and a sense of urgency” and to assume roles of “leadership across the university.”

As a “transformational leader” and “the chief advocate” for the college’s mission, Neal said she will collaborate with other leaders on campus, interact with faculty and staff, oversee curriculum and academic policies and take calculated risks. She also committed herself to being proactive in managing and diversifying the college’s revenue streams. 

Neal comes to NIU from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, where she was dean of the College of Education. As co-editor of the Black History Bulletin, she is a nationally renowned scholar in the field of culturally responsive teaching.

Her resume also includes teaching at the middle school level, management positions in Fortune 500 companies and a 13-year career in military intelligence for the U.S. Army.