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For most of his professional life as a teacher, superintendent, owner of private schools and as an educational entrepreneur, Donald Leisey tried to improve education.

He continues to pursue that goal, but in perhaps the most unusual way yet. Leisey (Ed.D ’73) is developing a project called “educational intrapreneurship” which calls upon public school systems to help all employees advance creative ideas that aid learning.

“We have developed a process for prospective educational ‘intrapreneurs’ within the schools,” Leisey says, “that is similar to what entrepreneurs do in the private sector to get ideas off the ground.”

Under the proposal, school districts would allow teachers time to research and develop proposals, create a business plan and determine the cost of the plan.

The budding “intrapreneurs” would also determine “how the plan achieves the goal of the school district, how they would market the idea to the schools, and what kind of parental involvement there could be,” Leisey says.

School districts that approve the plan, Leisey says, would not only stimulate learning but rekindle teacher enthusiasm.

“One big problem in education is the turnover of personnel, particularly in the public school system,” says Leisey, wearing a blue dress shirt and grey pants and fingering a black cell phone as he talks. “Hopefully if we give teachers a piece of the action, they will be more inclined to stay with the schools.”

Leisey comes to the new project with considerable experience as an educator and innovator. He owns A+ Report Card, Inc., which sells educational resources at three Northern California stores and on the Internet. He’s also a member of the Board of Councilors for the USC Rossier School of Education.

In 2000, he co-wrote The Educational Entrepreneur: Making a Difference. The book profiles educators who expanded their service to children by creating private educational businesses.

The innovators include Drs. Barbara (M.S. ’61, Ed.D ’71) and Roger Rossier (M.S. ’61, Ed.D ’72) who donated $20 million to the USC School of Education in 1998 and for whom the school is named.

Earlier Leisey owned the largest forprofit school organization in the nation with 22 campuses. Leisey says that the Merryhill Country Schools in addition to providing a strong academic program, offered before and after school programs “which the working parents might have difficulty getting their children to.”

The programs included “tutoring, supervised study halls, ballet and tap dancing, instrumental music lessons, piano lessons, theater [and] athletic programs. We took the guilt out of working parents by providing programs on campus that they were interested in having their children participate in.”

The schools also obligated parents to tuition on a month-to-month basis. The short-term contracts forced the schools to teach well to prevent parents from withdrawing their children. Leisey sold the business to a public company in 1989.

The former teacher also served as a school principal at age 24 in Pennsylvania. He was an assistant superintendent at age 30 in Southern California, and at 35 became superintendent for the San Rafael City Schools north of San Francisco. He has lived in San Rafael since 1971.

Looking over his varied career Leisey says “Three things make me somewhat unique. The administrative positions I held at a very young age, the fact that I was in charge of a sizable public school district and a large private school organization, and I held positions at all levels of education from preschool through graduate school.”

Leisey has been successful in many areas because “He’s committed to improving education, and he’s dedicated to whatever he’s involved in at the moment,” says Chuck Lavaroni, Leisey’s partner in the “educational intrapreneurship” project.

Lavaroni recalls that at a Bay-Area college Leisey got the highest ratings from students in his department even though he taught only one class a

Don Leisey semester. “It was indicative of the enthusiasm and skill and commitment he put into it,” Lavaroni says.

At every stage of his career, whether a part-time teacher or a superintendent of schools, Leisey says the Rossier School’s Certificate in School Business Administration was a major help. Leisey was among the first group of students to receive the certificate, earning it along with his Ed.D in 1973.

“The certificate was probably as valuable to my career, if not more so, than my Ed.D.,” he says. “It gave me a lot of credibility within school business management and it also helped my entrepreneurial career.”

The USC Rossier School of Education also aided him in other ways.

“What I value most about the Rossier School of Education,” he says, “is that I always felt that the faculty wanted to see me succeed. The other part that I enjoyed is that the faculty’s doors were always open. You always had access. And they never lost touch with me.”

Members of the Rossier faculty and the school’s placement office recommended that he apply to become business manager of the San Rafael schools. From that job he became superintendent of the school district. Leisey’s success as a superintendent and in many other positions doesn’t surprise Lavaroni.

“He’s honest, has magnificent communication skills and is a good listener,” Lavaroni says. “He works very hard. You can [also] see how respectful he is of his employees; how willing he is to stand up for them and how willing he is to stand up against them when he knows they’re wrong. He’s got a lot of guts is what it amounts to.”