Rod Paige: from classroom teacher to US Superintendent of Schools

I love to share stories about talented educators who have also served successfully in the political arena. Today’s story is about Rod Paige, the first African American to serve as the US Secretary of Education.

Rod was born Roderick Raynor Paige on June 17, 1933 in Monticello, Mississippi, the oldest of five children. His father, Raynor Paige, was a public school principal, and his mother, Sophie Paige, was a public school librarian. After his high school graduation in 1951, Rod earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. He earned both his master’s (1962) and doctorate degrees (1980) from Indiana University at Bloomington. Rod is also a veteran, having served as a medical corpsman in the US Navy from 1955-1957.

After completing his military service, Rod accepted his first teaching position when he went to work as a health and physical education teacher at Hinds Agriculture High School in Utica, Mississippi. He taught there and coached football from 1957-1963. From 1971 to 1984, Rod served as the head coach and athletic director for Texas Southern University.

In 1980, Rod accepted a position as a professor at Texas Southern University, where he taught until 1984. While there, he became the Dean of the College of Education, a position he held until 1994. During this time, probably his greatest achievement was the establishment of the university’s Center for Excellence in Urban Education, a research facility focusing on issues related to instruction and management in urban school systems. During this time, Inside Houston Magazine named the former classroom teacher as one of “Houston’s 25 most powerful people” in guiding the city’s growth and prosperity. In 2001, Rod was honored as National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators.

Rod’s next job was as the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District in 1994. While there, Rod earned a reputation for outstanding leadership skills and innovative reforms. His professional goals were to focus on best instructional strategies, accountability at all levels, and developing of a core curriculum. Next, Rod returned to Texas Southern University, where he served as the Dean of the College of Education.

In 2001, Rod was named by President George W. Bush to be the seventh US Secretary of Education, a post he held until 2005. The major push in education during Rod’s tenure was the controversial No Child Left Behind legislation.

After leaving the Education Department, Rod became a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where he helped fashion public policy. Recently, Rod has served as the interim president of his alma mater, Jackson State University in Mississippi.

To read more about this chalkboard champion, you can read Rod’s biography at the US Department of Education.