Meet Our Office: Don Cooper
November 28, 2017
Don Cooper joined the GVSU CSO in early November as our new Deputy Director for Charter Schools. As Deputy Directory, his work primarily focuses on ensuring effective charter board governance, leading the CSO's communications team, and on initiatives that lead to more and better choices for parents.
Don has long had a passion for public policy and learning how decisions come to fruition in the public sector. After graduating from Hillsdale College, where he studied economics, Don worked for a think tank in Poughkeepsie, NY. Following the events of 9/11, Don returned to Michigan and worked for the state House Majority Caucus. Initially working on talking points, newsletters and speeches, he quickly transitioned to the caucus’s policy team. There, he advised members of the House majority on issues affecting the state’s public schools.
Don found a lot of excitement working with education policy because he saw how it empowered families and students. He fully dedicated his work to charter schools in 2006 when he joined Central Michigan University’s Center for Charter Schools as their director of public policy. In this capacity he worked with many state and national organizations, policymakers, and others to share CMU’s expertise in charters and chartering to inform both practice and policy.
Prior to joining the GVSU CSO, Don expanded his work to the national level. He spent time with National Heritage Academies as the director of government relations, helping to connect policymakers across the country to the schools they represent. Most recently, he was with the National Charter Schools Institute, heading their national work in board governance, policy and communications.
What are some of the key things you learned while working with the National Charter Schools Institute?
First, I learned the importance of the role that school boards play. People may talk about them but don’t always understand them. These boards are not “rubber stamps;” they are people with a passion for serving their community. What they do is essential to the success of the schools they govern.
The second thing is how quickly the charter community is changing from a focus on school compliance to a focus on academic performance. I find it really fascinating. That’s a big part of the reason I joined the team at GVSU—the team here has a relentless focus on great outcomes for kids.
What book would you recommend others to read?
The book I’m reading right now is “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory” by David W. Blight. It’s about how a lot of people have forgotten the purpose of why the Civil War was fought. It looks at how people chose to start remembering the war and how some of the issues stemming from it were never really dealt with. It’s a fascinating read, especially because of the conversations taking place today.
Who is/was your mentor, or somebody who inspired you?
One person who inspires me is Richard McLellan, a retired attorney from here in Michigan. He is the type of person who is deeply involved with Michigan public policy. He’s been a dear friend for a number of years now, and is somebody who is always challenging ideas and the way we think about things. He also pushes people to really know the details of a project. He fully believes in the power of the mind and is not afraid to take people under his wing.
What do you like to do for fun?
I’m really passionate about Michigan State University athletics, especially Spartan basketball and football. I also put a lot of work into restoring my historical house in Lansing, and really enjoy traveling. I’m also on the board of directors for the Michigan History Foundation, which raises money to help the state museums and archives, and was the past president for the Michigan Political History Society. We worked to preserve some of the “unrecorded” historical campaign items and launched an online living history library. It’s been a rewarding experience.