Dr. Donald Owen has spent the last 30 years as an educator and leader focused on improving student outcomes through equity, excellence, and engagement. Dr. Owen grew up in Minneapolis, MN and attended Minneapolis Public Schools. He earned his BA In Psychology and Social Studies Education from Carleton College, and an MA in history from Illinois State University.  He completed his MEd and EdD in Educational Organization, and Leadership from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.   

Don taught 8th Grade U.S. History for 12 years before moving to district leadership in staff development and grant programs.  His passion as a student, historian, teacher, and professional developer has centered on issues of social justice and dismantling systemic racism.  Owen’s classroom and scholarly work has been recognized at the local, state, and national level.  In 1995, Owen received the “Outstanding Young Educator” award from the UIUC College of Education. Also in 1995, Owen was named the James Madison Fellowship Foundation Scholar for the state of Illinois, which he used to launch is MA in History at Illinois State University.  In 1996, Owen received the Award of Merit in the Illinois State Board of Education’s “Those Who Excel Awards” for his excellence in classroom teaching.  

Throughout his education, Dr. Owen focused on themes in American History that related to civil rights and liberties for historically marginalized groups.  His undergraduate comprehensive study in psychology at Carleton College focused on Tajfel’s theories of intergroup interactions and bias. The topic of his Master’s Thesis at Illinois State was about the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Korematsu v. US, regarding the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.  His doctoral dissertation, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, examined elementary principals’ conceptions of federal policies and socially-just educational practices. 

He was the co-director of the American History Teachers’ Collaborative, a federally funded grant program, from 2003-2014.  He served as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction from 2007-2013. During his tenure as Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Owen facilitated the strategic planning process which set the direction for the district for the next seven years.  He was named Superintendent of USD116 in 2013. He is most proud of the work he has led to reduce disparities around issues of race. During his tenure as Superintendent, the graduation rate for White and Black students were within one percentage point of each other – essentially erasing the graduation gap between Black and White students.  The work he led in the district earned Urbana High School the status of one of 20 high schools in the country to be named a School of Opportunity in 2016. In 2017, he was selected by his peers as the “Superintendent of Distinction” for the Illini Region in the Illinois Association of School Administrators.  His leadership focuses on educational excellence through equity, engagement, and student voice.  

Dr. Owen is continuing to devote his energy to advocate for students and families of the Urbana-Champaign area. When he is not at work or attending student activities and events, he enjoys spending time running, biking, and playing in the great outdoors with his wife and two children.

Don Owen can be contacted directly at don@lead4equity.com. He is active on social media, and his blog, “A View from Here,” is where he shares ideas and thoughts about leadership, transformational change, and confronting personal, institutional, and systemic biases and racism. He welcomes your questions, inquiries, and dialogue.

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