'The field of education is under siege'

New CoE dean sets out to silence critics with collaboration as a cornerstone


SUMMARY: Mark L'Esperance, the newly appointed dean of the College of Education, embarks on a new career adventure during a pivotal time.

By Khalil Garriott (’04)

Mark L’Esperance, the newly appointed dean of the College of Education, came to JMU after more than 20 years on the faculty at East Carolina University. Formerly a professor and department chair of elementary education and middle grades education at ECU, L’Esperance’s research interests are in quality teaching, school reform and middle-level education. His research agenda focuses on young adolescents through three strands: school reform and leadership, teacher candidate preparation and community engagement.

L’Esperance has worked with public school systems in coaching hundreds of administrators related to strategic planning and instructional leadership. In 2001, he co-founded Building Hope Community Life Center, a thriving multicomponent center dedicated to serving the children and families of Greenville and Pitt County, North Carolina. His graduate studies included doctoral work at Indiana University and earning a Ph.D. in 1998 from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. He is a native of Lynn, Massachusetts.

Madison recently caught up with L’Esperance as he embarks on a new career adventure during a pivotal time, with JMU striving to become the national model for the engaged university.

Madison: How will you help JMU become a national leader in higher education?

Mark L’Esperance: Based on the solid historical foundation and contemporary impact that James Madison University has in educator preparation and military science, I am very excited about the potential for developing interdisciplinary projects within the College of Education, at the university level, across the commonwealth of Virginia, nationally and internationally. I would like to expand the international education opportunities currently taking place within the college.

Madison: What prompted your move into administrative roles?

L’Esperance: Throughout my career, I have always balanced my teaching with my assigned role as a coordinator, director or department chair. I believe that an administrative role allows you to have a bird’s-eye view of the bigger mission and vision of the organization. I’ve always been passionate about working with stakeholders in accomplishing that mission and vision.

The main reason I wanted to be considered for this position involves the outstanding reputation James Madison University has in preparing educators along with the focused vision related to community engagement, civic engagement and the engagement of learning. The opportunity to be part of something significant that allows me to utilize my education, experiences and passion made James Madison University’s College of Education a perfect fit.

Madison: How would you describe your teaching style?

L’Esperance: My teaching style is a combination of instructive, collaborative and facilitative. It depends on the topic and audience. I rely heavily on understanding the contextual considerations and work toward moving individuals to a specific outcome or objective. Every time I’m with someone, it is also an opportunity for me to learn and grow as an educator and person.

Madison: Talk about how you have specialized in helping at-risk students with low socio-economic status.

L’Esperance: As a low-wealth, first generation college graduate, I fully understand the impact of having the appropriate support system that allowed me to accomplish my goals and dreams. I have worked directly in dozens of low-wealth schools while supporting hundreds of administrators, teachers and students into creating programs, processes and policies that enhance the educational experience of all. However, the one service activity closest to my heart is Building Hope Community Life Center, located in Greenville, North Carolina. I co-founded this organization 18 years ago to work with the at-risk children and families located in Pitt County. This partnership, involving East Carolina University, the school system, businesses and government organizations, has supported and advocated for hundreds of families and children.

Madison: What is your vision for the College of Education?

L’Esperance: Building on a strong foundation currently in place, I believe that the College of Education will become a “Culture of Significance” empowered by a collective sense of purpose based on a clearly defined mission, vision and goals. This vision aligns directly with James Madison University’s commitment to engagement. It is my belief that the College of Education will be recognized nationally for the impact it has on both innovation and best practices in educator preparation and military science, and through civic and community engagement.

Madison: How do you envision the college evolving in the coming years?

L’Esperance: Impact: The field of education is under siege. The critics are focused on creating a narrative that the education system is failing and there are better ways of doing it than what universities provide. As the dean of education, I believe that we must be intentional about identifying and communicating the impact that the College of Education has on the communities we serve. This includes articulating the economic and cultural impact of the graduates as well as the certificate and license earners of the college’s respective programs. An example of this is the economic impact of the countless practicum and internships hours delivered by our students at schools and other agencies. Another example is analyzing the specific impact of the initiatives of departments, programs and centers. How do we tell our story in a way that silences the critics and at the same time promotes the significant accomplishments of our alumni, faculty, staff and students?

Preparing quality educators: How can we ensure all our traditional and distance-education programs are preparing the highest quality teachers, administrators, school counselors and psychologists, along with other educators? I believe that my role as dean will be to support faculty in creating an environment in which innovation, along with pedagogical best practice, is celebrated and rewarded. This requires supporting faculty, staff, centers and programs in seeking external funding along with developing networks of short-term and long-term partnerships.

Collaborating with public schools: Over the course of my career, I have worked with hundreds of schools in the area of school renewal and leadership along with educator preparation. I have been fortunate to lead the efforts of establishing a university-based laboratory school that centers on partnering with the local school district along with university and community partners. The initial or long-term success is that the public-school partner always feels that it has a mutual commitment and relationship with its university partner. I believe that at JMU, the key to this is working with districts to create comprehensive interdisciplinary frameworks based on shared needs and clearly articulating the intended outcomes, roles and responsibilities of each partner.

Madison: Is it possible for a college to be “agile” given how fast the world changes?

L’Esperance: Yes. There has to be a culture in place that is rich with indicators of broad and deep renewal and progress with data to support the efforts of the many departments, programs, centers and services. The culture has to be in a constant mode of reflection. The culture is data-directed, not data-driven. The outcome of this intentional and thoughtful community is to impact and promote the role of education at the regional, state, national and global level.

# # # 

Madison banner 2018

Back to Top

Published: Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Last Updated: Sunday, May 23, 2021

Related Articles