July 07, 2023

In Remembrance: John H. McDonnell, Professor Emeritus of Education

John McDonnell, a professor emeritus of education who helped the college develop the education department’s curriculum, passed away on Apr. 25, 2023, in Waupaca, Wis.

John H. McDonnell, Professor Emeritus of Education Credit: Dennis MooreJohn McDonnell joined the faculty in 1968 and served a nearly 30-year tenure before earning emeritus status in 1996. With a background in history at Occidental College, a Ph.D. in education from the University of Southern California, and his teaching license from UCLA, he became a member of local and national teaching organizations when he moved his family to Wisconsin.

Throughout his career, McDonnell was a staunch advocate for teachers’ rights both on Beloit’s campus and within state and local government. As a member of the Task Force on Teaching and Teacher Education for the State of Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction, McDonnell emphasized attracting, training, and retaining teachers within the state. There, he promoted consensus bargaining, teacher raises, and site-based management at the district level. He also became secretary to the State Superintendent Advisory Council for the North Central Regional Educational Lab, funded by the Department of Education.

During his tenure at Beloit, he wrote and presented extensively about teacher career cycles as a model for professional growth and development. McDonnell also helped develop a fifth-year program and teaching residency for education majors; the current curriculum retains some elements of this plan today.

In 1980, he co-led a symposium exclusively about higher education, encouraging the connections between Beloit College and the city. He was later elected to Beloit’s school board for six years, serving as president during two of them.

McDonnell said that he was most proud of teaching diverse groups of students, including special education classes.

“We need to accept a variety of cultures and outlooks in our schools,” he said in an interview. “This was not always done … In the future, we’re going to be a more diverse society, like it or not.”

Among the survivors are his wife, Judith Christensen; son, Brett Hamilton McDonnell; and daughter, Evelyn McDonnell.

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  • President-Elect Eric Boynton speaks to the college community during an introduction event in May, 2023.

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