In 1970, Lonnie Palmer graduated from Union College in Schenectady, NY, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics and planned to continue on to a Ph.D. program but was interrupted by a notice from the U.S. Government – a draft notice. Knowing his low number would preempt plans to continue his education, Palmer took what he thought was a short-term position teaching high school science in Albany, NY — and a reluctant education reformer was born.
Palmer was drafted during the Vietnam War and was lucky to be stationed stateside at the Army’s health and safety office at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, where he worked as a Science Research Assistant.
Two years later when he was honorably discharged, Palmer, motivated by that “short-term” teaching position, went back to the classroom, where he taught physics, AP Physics, Earth science, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus for Spackenkill High School in New York State’s mid-Hudson Valley. It was the beginning of a 40-year career in education.
After Spackenkill High School, Palmer spent 13 years as Principal of Averill Park High School, where he: increased the number of Advanced Placement (AP) courses taught from two to seven and increased the number of students taking the AP exams more than 400 percent; doubled the number of students taking and passing Regents exams; implemented an alternative high school program that reduced drop outs by 75 percent and conducted reform that resulted in The Business Review naming Averill Park the Albany Capital Region’s most cost effective high performing high school.
After Averill Park, Palmer went to the City School District of New Rochelle, NY, where he was Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education. An urban environment with a diverse population, New Rochelle was hot bed of reform. Using a Mellon Foundation Grant for educational innovation, Palmer implemented New York State Education Department approved variances on Regents exams that allowed teachers to substitute portions of 13 different exams with rubric-based research projects. One example: 20 percent of the Biology Regents Exam was a research project students completed with the aid of medical doctors from Southern Westchester Medical Center.
In 1997, while he was Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education in New Rochelle, Palmer was recruited to take over the Albany City School District as Superintendent of Schools. Mr. Palmer was hired by a majority reform board to move away from decades of patronage, nepotism and cronyism and move to a results-based school district.
During his tenure as an urban schools superintendent, Palmer, among other things, passed a referendum to renovate 11 school buildings and rebuild four; established and restructured five different alternative programs; and implemented a teaching assistant program that served as a training program for urban teachers.
In 2003, following his tenure in Albany, Palmer started a consulting business called AdvisorySolutions that analyzed and compared school district performance data with similar districts and established benchmarks for effective school spending and academic performance, but it wasn’t long before he heard from another urban school district. Troy City School District, in Troy, NY, was in dire straits and needed a leader to turn things around.
Within two years with Palmer at the helm, Troy schools financial status was upgraded by Standard and Poor’s and both the middle and high school were removed from the State’s Schools In Need of Improvement (SINI) list.
After a stint as an educational consultant for several clients Palmer was recruited again in 2013 to lead a rural school district with several outstanding labor contracts. Palmer settled three union contracts in one year and helped implement the new Common Core standards. Part of the implementation effort included freeing up funds from places where they weren’t effectively improving the program and reinvesting those dollars in programs, curriculum and teachers.
One of the ways to find out how he did that is to read his new solutions-based book “Why We Failed: 40 Years of Education Reform,” available on Amazon.
While the Vietnam War put his formal education on hold, Palmer eventually obtained his Master’s in Physics Education and a Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Administration from the State University of New York at New Paltz.
To buy the solutions-based book “Why We Failed: 40 Years of Education Reform,” go to Amazon and search “Lonnie Palmer” or click here