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Former NFL Player Kicks a Field Goal for Education

Many people associate Von Mansfield (Principal Leadership M.A., '93) with the National Football League, where he played defensive back and kick returner with the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles. But as Superintendent of Homewood-Flossmoor (H-F) High School District 233, Dr. Mansfield has spent more time basking in the national spotlight, sharing insights that have their roots in his experience at Governors State University (GSU).

Mansfield followed a five-year NFL run with an even more successful career in educational administration, initially with schools in Rich Township High School District 227, then at H-F. He joined the district as principal in 2001, and in 2008 was named superintendent. Often ranked among the best high schools in the country, H-F is a three-time recipient of the Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education.

His success has attracted the attention of industry leaders, and in 2018, Mansfield presented data on ACT and SAT scores to the 6,000-member College Board of Trustees, which influences how colleges and universities set admission standards. His position on the board’s executive committee is one of several he holds in educational organizations at the local, state and national levels.

When asked about his achievements, Mansfield goes back to the beginning of his educational leadership journey.

“For all the recognition I’ve received nationally, at the root is what I learned at GSU,” he said. “I always come back to what GSU provided.”

Describe your current position.

As superintendent of a school district, I’m the chief educator, and I coordinate the daily functions among administrators, teachers, students, parents and the community. As an administrator, you can try to influence kids to a greater degree by helping teachers who teach and administrators who hire the teachers. You can have a bigger impact because you’re also working with parents in the community.

Why did you choose GSU?

I was teaching high school in Milwaukee and taking classes at University of Wisconsin when I took a job at Rich East High School as dean and then as a guidance counselor. I needed to find a school that was closer to complete my degree and where the quality was high enough to satisfy the University of Wisconsin. That led me to GSU for classes, though I earned my master's in counselor education from UW. 

Later I returned to GSU to get my administration certification, and I earned my Master of Arts in Educational Administration. GSU’s program attracted the best and the brightest professionals from south suburban schools who wanted to go into administration. GSU had the leading professors in the field, with adjuncts who were involved in the day-to-day running of local school districts, including superintendents. Some superintendents who retired became professors as well. It was a rich set of experiences and professors, and it was cutting edge. I still use what I learned at GSU.

It helped me get certified and allowed me to start striving for my dream of becoming a leader. GSU put me in a position to do that. The resources I got went well beyond my degree. I formed relationships, and six or seven years down the road, it was nice to be able to ask people I’d met for additional support. Later on, I got calls myself, asking me to come back to GSU and share my experience. What more can you ask for? This is the culmination of everything you’re trying to do as an educational leader.

What's next for you professionally?

I’m going to continue to use what I’ve learned. At the beginning of your career, you look down the road and see as far as you can, and you figure out the goals you want to achieve along the way. But once you get there, it turns out you can always see farther. In education, we get older but the kids coming through the doors will always be those same ages. That’s the beauty of education. You always get to come back for another year.

Everyone should have at least one teacher who made a difference. It could even be a school secretary or custodian. With all the technology they have these days, kids still need that person-to-person contact. At GSU, for me, it was that one-on-one connection with the professors. That made a big difference for me.

What advice would you share with current GSU students?

Take full advantage of GSU. It’s a remarkable collection of resources, and it can be hard for students to fully appreciate that. Whatever the goal is, even if you have great expectations for yourself, GSU is the best place to help you achieve success.