John Chubb “exuded optimism about the opportunity independent schools had to innovate and do right for all students worldwide,” NAIS board member and author Michael Horn wrote in a blog post about John, who died on November 12, 2015, at age 61. He “was a man of big ideas, action, and a penchant for saying what he thought…. As the seeming model of physical health with the energy he possessed, it makes his passing all the more difficult to process for so many of us.”
Among his many talents, John was a graceful and insightful writer. He would often start his posts on NAIS’s Independent Ideas blog with a small story — about his son’s struggle learning to read, or a school’s so-disastrous-it’s-funny opening day.
But by the time the posts ended, he managed to link that specific example to larger issues — how to teach to individual needs, why shaping character matters so much — that conveyed deeper meaning about the role of education and independent schools in our society.
John approached being president of NAIS the same way. He relished the chance to travel to scores of NAIS-member schools. He treated each visit as an exciting opportunity to learn about the unique strengths and challenges of each school. He strove to connect the world of independent schools with broader problems that confront all American children, teachers, and schools. He wasn’t content to let NAIS be insular in its concerns or its ambitions.
“His voice and wisdom and vast experience were already beginning to awaken some of the sleepier members of the independent school community,” longtime NAIS supporter Peter Gow wrote in Education Week.
No ivory tower theorist
John spent his entire working life in education. A political scientist by training, he got his start teaching at Stanford University while still in his 20s. A self-described “data geek with a practical side,” he went on to indulge his love of statistics by conducting education research at think tanks, including the Brookings Institution and Education Sector.
But as one observer noted, John was not an ivory tower theorist. His practical side came out in full force when he helped cofound Edison Schools, an education management company serving 325,000 students in 20 states. Most of the public schools that Edison Schools worked with were in high-poverty areas.
“I chose to join Edison because I wanted to involve myself directly with schools and their improvement,” he told an interviewer soon after accepting the presidency of NAIS in early 2013. “I wanted to do the work, not just write about it…. And that is what I got to do for 15 years as chief education officer. I stayed at Edison a very long time because, particularly for the neediest students, we were helping to change lives. That is ultimately what drives me.”
His driving interests carried over into his NAIS years. “As both a thought leader and innovative practitioner, John made substantial contributions,” says Katherine Dinh, chair of the NAIS board of trustees and head of the Prospect Sierra School (California). “In this increasingly challenging climate for independent schools, John prompted members to look beyond their own circles, to share expertise and resources with schools of all kinds and to learn from others as well.”
He wanted schools to make better decisions by employing the most reliable data. Under his direction in 2014, NAIS built on the success of its StatsOnline program and unveiled Data and Analysis for School Leadership, or DASL — pronounced “dazzle.” Through DASL, member schools can evaluate their school’s performance in the context of peer schools nationally, regionally, and locally. John pushed NAIS to make data and research more accessible to administrators and board members in order to inform strategic planning.
Another far-reaching initiative John undertook was a series of research summits paired with community-based conversations. The first summit, in January 2014, explored the economics of independent schools. Since then, a variety of participants have come together for in-depth discussions of blended and online learning, student health and well-being, and the science of learning. The latest in the series, on equity and justice, took place in November 2015.
Each summit convened prominent educators, researchers, and thought leaders to discuss trends and new learnings. The summits sought to shape the agenda for future research that could most benefit independent schools. The conversations continued beyond the summits through the NAIS Deep Dives on Twitter and in the NAIS Connect online community.
“We want to make sure that our schools not only survive, but thrive, long into the future,” John said when the first summit debuted. “The research and services that grow out of these discussions will help our schools do just that.”
The power of transformation and hope
In a 2014 essay called “Transformational Leadership,” John concluded with a story about representing NAIS on the advisory committee at the Klingenstein Center for Independent School Leadership at Columbia University’s Teachers College. His first meeting included an event to honor the center’s longtime benefactor, John Klingenstein. But celebrating tradition wasn’t really the point. The point was figuring out what leaders of the future would require.
“To a person, the committee members agreed that the challenges before us require the ability to transform,” John wrote. “As I looked around the table at several school heads who help comprise the committee — icons all — I felt a great sense of hope. Our most successful leaders have always been those who inspire us, who fill us with trust — and who may never be forgotten.”
John Chubb leaves behind many reminders of his own transformative role and a sense of hope that those who come after will be equally committed to helping independent schools fulfill that need on behalf of all children.
Donations in his memory may be made to the Melanoma Research Foundation at www.melanoma.org. To request notification to his family, please use “The Family of John Chubb” with NAIS’s address: 1129 20th St., NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20036.