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Xavier Magazine | September 23, 2018

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School Days

By France Griggs Sloat

The voices of school children playing outside drift in through Jim Boothe’s office window. The tinkling laughter and chatter from the adjacent Montessori school serve as a lighthearted backdrop for the serious work he does as chairman of Xavier’s department of education. Some might view the sounds as a distraction, but to Boothe they are a constant reminder of why he’s in the business of educating teachers.

 

“It brings you back to the real world, looking out to see all these little kids running around,” Boothe says. “It reminds you what you’re here for.”

Boothe, a Xavier graduate, basketball player, high school teacher and college professor who’s been working at Xavier for 18 years, hardly needs any reminding. That’s especially true now, as the department he leads undergoes a major transformation, growing from the University’s largest department into its first and only school.

As the new school of education, its four programs now become their own separate departments, each with its own individual chair. The change was brought on by education’s phenomenal growth since Boothe took the helm 12 years ago, and is part of an even bigger change within the newly named—and reorganized—College of Social Sciences, Health and Education. By reorganizing the disciplines under its purview, the new college shifts its focus from an emphasis on traditional Jesuit liberal arts to its integration with the pursuit of social science-based professional degrees. These include education and areas dealing with health—physical, social and mental. Political science, which does not fit this model, moves to the College of Arts and Sciences.

“The new name reflects the maturity and growth of the various disciplines,” says Neil Heighberger, dean of the College of Social Sciences.

The changes go into effect in June and also bring with them changes in leadership. Heighberger, who has been dean since the College’s inception in 1988, is retiring. His replacement will then be charged with hiring someone to succeed the 71-year-old Boothe, who is serving as interim dean of the new school of education.

During his tenure as the college’s only dean, Heighberger’s seen a lot of change: the creation of the department of occupational therapy and its growth into a master’s program; the expansion of the department of nursing from a two-year program to one that now offers multiple master’s degrees; and the conversion of the physical education major to a department of sports studies that now includes athletic training. In addition, the department of health services administration has gained national attention for its graduate-level program; the department of psychology now offers the University’s only doctoral degree; and the departments of social work and criminal justice continue to grow in popularity.

But the greatest growth has been in education. When Boothe took over in 1994, there were 400 undergraduate majors and 935 graduate students. There are still about 400 undergraduates each year, but the number of graduate students has grown by 42 percent to 1,332 students enrolled this fall.

“Education was much too large to be a department,” Heighberger says. “The number of students has grown, and the programs have blossomed. Now we can serve the students better. There will be more personal attention for students, and we can focus more directly on their needs.”

With the realignment, Boothe and his four administrators now preside over the departments of secondary and special education, educational leadership and human resource development, school and community counseling, and childhood education and literacy, which includes the nationally known Montessori program.

The new dean of the school of education will have his hands full, Boothe says. With increasing competition from other institutions, Xavier is challenged to keep finding fresh new ways to help working adults become teachers or add to their credentials. It already offers programs off-site, in summers and that blend online work with class time.

“It’s going to be a fight,” he says. “We have to market our programs and design them to meet our students’ needs. We’ve had a very good percent of the market, and if we can continue that, we’ll continue to be a leader in graduate education.”

Boothe’s successor will also have a dual role as associate dean of the new college, which provides opportunities Boothe could only wish for—time to focus on national issues and attend conferences where such topics are explored. “We need someone at that level who can focus on the national dialogue,” Heighberger says. “The department chairs can take away the day-to-day administrative operations, and the dean can focus on the larger issues and where we fit in that discussion. This increases our visibility and our engagement with the larger educational community.” Boothe will help define the goals of the new school, but it’s possible he’ll return to the classroom with a larger teaching load, leaving the administrative decisions to someone else. And Boothe is OK with that, because, as the children’s voices remind him daily, he can never forget why he’s here.

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