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Former State Education Commissioner Shares Leadership Skills With Doane Program

doug christensen/EDLFor 14 years, Doug Christensen influenced education statewide.

As commissioner of the Nebraska Department of Education, he led the policy-forming, planning and evaluative body for the state school program.

His job included meetings with U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Rod Paige and attending a Congressional Education Reform Subcommittee hearing.

He helped create a school-based, teacher-led assessment reporting system that was unique to Nebraska.

Christensen became a state and nationally recognized expert on issues such as curriculum, leadership and school improvement.

But when he retired as commissioner in 2008, his career goal was simply to be a teacher again.

In Doane's Master of Education in Educational Leadership program, he found the opportunity to teach and share four decades of leadership experience.

"I like teaching students rather than classes...Just the chance to develop leadership instead of the technical sides of being an administrator, I appreciate that."

Christensen had previously served as guest lecturer for the EDL program, which led to his interest in the faculty role.

"When I encountered students who were a product of (EDL) I was even more impressed with the program. They have a strong sense of who they are as a person and who they could be as a leader."

Christensen has made a difference since joining the team last summer, according to Jed Johnston, dean of graduate studies in EDL.

"He brings great experience and great people skills. He understands education and change. He is known nationally and brings instant credibility to the program," Johnston said.

Christensen graduated from Midland Lutheran College and went on to earn master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He started teaching in 1965 and was a high-school principal by the mid-70s. He served as superintendent in the Bloomfield, Colby, Kan., and North Platte school districts. His career in higher education included adjunct professor roles at Emporia State and UNL.

In 1990, he joined the Nebraska Department of Education as associate commissioner. He served as its commissioner from 1994 until 2008.

The numerous honors of Christensen's career include the Nebraska Council of School Administrators Distinguished Service Award in 2004 and Governing Magazine's Public-Official-of-the-Year title in 2003. In 2002, he was featured in Education Week. He received the Alvah Kilgore Award for Leadership and Assessment in 2003 from the Association of School Curriculum and Development. The American Association of School Administrators also named him Nebraska Superintendent of the Year. Doane presented Christensen an honorary doctor of pedagogy in 2006.

"It is such a joy to work in an environment like Doane College and to be part of a team with excellent professionals like Jed, Sue and Emily.  Doane is fortunate to have them in their leadership staff."

Since stepping down from the commission, Christensen has written numerous articles on education and policy and gives keynote presentations and lectures nationally.

Christensen will soon add a book to his long list of publications.

Leadership -- and the journey of self-discovery behind it - serves as the premise of the book, which is based on a journal Christensen kept for 20 years.

He happened to page through the journal last year and decided to add structure by writing down conclusions.

"I ended up with 10, which became the 10 chapters of the book."

Even though he compiled information for the book long before coming to Doane, its message fits perfectly with the one he delivers to students in his cadre:

"In order to be a leader, you've got to know yourself first."