by John Larmer
Editor in Chief
As you know, the use of and interest in PBL is growing rapidly—and the Buck Institute is too, to meet the demand and advance our mission. We’re staffing up in all areas of the organization, including senior leadership (see my post about Brandon Wiley, our recently-hired chief program officer). When he announced the hiring of our new chief strategic and operations officer, BIE Executive Director Bob Lenz said, “We had a large pool of high qualified candidates and Debra stood out as uniquely qualified to help lead our new strategic plan and operations.”
Her job description includes financial management and oversight, fund development support, communications and marketing, and staff development and operations oversight. She’s also providing strategic thinking leadership, as BIE grows and seeks to greatly increase the breadth and depth of the practice of PBL in the U.S. and around the world.
Debra comes to us from the publishing industry, most recently from Wiley as managing director of professional development (more on that below and how it connects to BIE’s work). She was president of Jossey-Bass, which was acquired by Wiley in 1999. Among the education-related books she oversaw the publication of were works by authors such as Doug Lemov (Teach Like a Champion), Michael Fullan, Parker Palmer, Tony Wagner, Ron Berger, Sir Ken Robinson, Ted Sizer, and Linda Darling-Hammond. (Jossey-Bass also published a book by BIE’s executive director Bob Lenz, Transforming Schools.)
Right Person, Right Time
In her own words, here’s how Debra sees her skills and experience being a good fit for BIE at this point in its growth:
“I led Jossey-Bass & Pfeiffer as we grew from $8 million to $100 million in revenue, and from 30 to 250 employees. BIE is already growing at a fast pace, and as the growth continues, it’ll be important to scale at the right times, apply the right resources, and help everyone in the organization understand the importance of letting go and focusing on more specialized jobs. It’ll also be critical to bring in the right new hires with skills that are needed, while keeping the culture and passion of the organization strong. I have managed sales, marketing, editorial, PR, content management, HR, finance and operations and have a grasp of how each of those areas can grow. I’ve also led a quite diverse and geographically spread organization.
“I have a passion for building a great organizational culture with a focus on a common mission. I have a deep background in leadership development and training. It’s clear that BIE is already focused on building a great culture and common mission. That’s very important to me, and I think I could help to create a great climate in the senior team to accomplish that mission.”
At Wiley, where she led the San Francisco office, Debra was deeply involved in professional development and curriculum design; the book publishing industry was undergoing big changes and Wiley was diversifying its products and services. For example, in Wiley’s “Leadership Challenge” program—much like what BIE does—Debra worked with selected authors to create trainings and tools for leaders, including online tools and apps, assessments and certification, and conduct national conferences. Her teams at Pfeiffer and Jossey-Bass built global networks of 250+ trainers.
A Personal Connection to Education
With a father who was a college professor of 18th century English literature, it’s safe to say Debra has always been surrounded by books. Her mother was a teacher who also became an assistant principal at a school for special needs kids in Atlanta. After moving around a lot earlier in her life, Debra settled in San Rafael, California, near the BIE home office, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and son. And now, carrying on the family tradition, her daughter is getting her teaching credential—and I presume learning about PBL (via BIE, if not her ed program!).
When she’s not working, Debra likes to hike with her "big rescue dog mutts," and has won a few ribbons at the Marin County Fair for photography. She also loves to travel, and has had adventures in 29 national parks and 48 states. And guess what, she’s an avid reader too.
In her first two weeks on the job, Debra has fit right in here at the home office. She says, “I already knew that BIE had a great mission and incredible opportunities to grow with an ambitious strategic plan. What I've learned in the first weeks here is just how dedicated and passionate the BIE staff are. It's exciting to be a part of this talented team of people.”
Not to get too mutually-mushy here, but I’d echo what one of our interview team members said during the hiring process, “How did we get so lucky that someone like Debra Hunter wants to work with us?!”