George Mason University

News at Mason

Anne Holton adds to her family’s Mason legacy

November 10, 2017   /   by Damian Cristodero

Anne Holton was part of a College of Education and Human Development panel on the changing landscape of education policy during Alumni Weekend. Photo by Eddie Jenkins.

The first time Anne Holton was on George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus after being hired as a visiting professor, the former Virginia Secretary of Education made sure to walk to the plaza dedicated to her father.

A. Linwood Holton Jr. was Virginia’s governor in 1972, and signed the bill that separated then-George Mason College from the University of Virginia.

“I’m a fan of George Mason for so many reasons,” Anne Holton said, “but especially because of the connection with my dad.”

Holton stepped down as secretary of education in July 2015, when her husband, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), was selected as Hillary Clinton’s running mate. She spent the rest of the presidential campaign touring the country in support of Clinton, conducting a listening tour in which educators spoke about their hopes and concerns.

Holton said she approached her friend, Mason President Ángel Cabrera, for advice about the next steps in her career.

“And he gave me advice,” she said. “But he also said, ‘Why don’t you come here?’ ”

Holton has a dual appointment at the Schar School of Policy and Government and the College of Education and Human Development. She also serves as a senior fellow of Mason’s Center for Education Policy and Evaluation.

Her first class, a graduate course on education policy challenges, will convene next semester.

“My goal,” she said, “is to get an equal number of students from both schools and make them work together. I’m going to nudge the conversation along a bit with this course. I’ve also been talking to both deans and with other folks in the education policy program to have the two schools collaborate more.”

Holton spoke on several issues in a recent conversation at Merten Hall.

What attracted you to Mason?

I got to know Mason leadership well during my time as secretary of education, and have long been a fan of Mason’s superstar status of access and success. We are the best performer of Virginia’s public universities in admitting students from all kinds of different backgrounds and getting them over the finish line. We’ve basically eliminated the achievement gap, and are now a top research university as well. I’m excited to be part of it.

Does being in two different schools create messaging difficulties for you?

Coming at policy matters from a practitioner’s perspective, I really think I add something to both the education school and policy school. Nothing works in today’s government world, or probably the private sector, unless you bring people together around common goals. How do we help cities and towns and localities? How do we help them be successful? Education has to be part of that conversation. If you are not impacting policy, you are missing so many opportunities.

How will you relay that vision?

I am working with the folks at Schar about an event I’m really excited about in March that is going to help bring together people from the education world and the business community around greater collaboration for career exploration in our schools. It will be an all-day conference focused on how the business community can interact with our schools to better prepare our young people for life after high school.

That kind of interaction has always been a priority for you, correct?

We have this disconnect on career interests. We have good jobs that are hard to fill because nobody knows about them, and young people aren’t applying for them. On the other hand, we’ve got young people having a hard time figuring out what they want to do with their lives. The [Virginia] Board of Education, where I serve, is in the process of adopting new high school curricular requirements that include an emphasis on career exploration. Part of that is, we’re expecting our high schools to give every student an internship or externship, or some kind of meaningful opportunity. It’s going to be a high school requirement by 2022.

Part of the board’s agenda is to help schools that aren’t succeeding. Can you effect that at Mason?

My heart is in connecting policy research and practice. For example, I’m working with the education policy folks here to examine if we are giving our students enough background and information on school budgets. Education is a third of every state budget, and more than a third of every local budget. How do we allocate money in divisions and across divisions? Policy decisions go unquestioned if the academic world isn’t helping to ask those questions.

What do you hope students take away from your classes?

I would hope my students take away that education policy is important to the success of our communities, and that to do right by our students we need folks in all sectors of government, the nonprofit world and the business world working together to ensure we have great schools for all kids.