It’s not every day that a legend in school leadership decides it’s time to call it a day. But that’s exactly what we witnessed at Friday’s annual meeting of the Horace Mann League during the AASA National Conference on Education in San Antonio.
Jack McKay, who has led the organization through three decades of change, announced his retirement and passed the HML reins on to Jeanne Collins-DeWeese, former superintendent in Vermont’s Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union.
In a ceremony marking McKay’s retirement, with his wife Judy looking on, league members praised their long-time leader by noting that he’d been a winner from very early on in his life. As a boy scout, a high school teacher who helped coach Port Angeles High School’s basketball team to a state championship in Washington, superintendent in three districts in Washington state, a fire jumper helping preserve forests in the Pacific Northwest, a champion amateur golfer and a sailboat racing enthusiast in tricky San Francisco Bay, he’d covered a lot of ground.
But his taking the helm at the Horace Mann League undoubtedly stands as his greatest leadership legacy. In a book of tributes to McKay from current and former league members, the HML board hailed him for his steadfast commitment to public schools in America. McKay understood, the board said, that public schools are “not simply the backbone of our communities but the instrument through which individuals In America create their future and the United States maintains its democracy.”
McKay, who led the League for nearly one-third of its 101-year history, broke new ground as executive director by launching a highly regarded weekly newsletter, establishing a new podcast series, supporting the publication of a book defending public education by Teachers College Press and collaborating in the development of important new research analyzing international comparisons and the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The book of tributes, the board said, is a mark of its “respect and affection for this gracious and decent school leader as he retires.” Under McKay, said the board, the Horace Mann League came to exemplify the words of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats: “There are no strangers here, only friends we have yet to meet.”
(James Harvey is a consultant with Jim Harvey & Associates in Seattle, Wash. He formerly was director of the National Superintendents Roundtable.)