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Mae McKinley: the heart of Campus School

When you want to understand the inner workings of a dynamic and innovative organization, you talk the person at the center of it.

Mae McKinley served as secretary at the experimental Campus School from 1968 until its closure in 1990. Prior to that, she worked at Minot Model High School for three years under principals C. S. Bjorlie and Joe Wax.

The Iowa native's matchless office skills and meticulous organization kept the school running smoothly. Yet she radiated maternal warmth when needed.

"When the students would come in with scraped knees, I would wash them up and tape them together," she said.

Principal Wax kept file cards on every student in the school and maintained a rigorous filing system. But often he would vaguely tell McKinley to file a document "somewhere." The dutiful secretary created a file labeled "somewhere" and often found important documents there to the bemusement of her boss.

McKinley's knowledge of the school's avant-garde programs was so extensive that principals asked her to conduct tours of the school for visiting teachers and administrators. The programs observed often sent ripples through the educational establishment.

One key Lab School innovation was individualized instruction. Each student in a classroom followed his own program of learning. Grade levels, testing and report cards were all but eliminated. Students moved about classrooms freely, gathering materials and helping one another. Each tracked his own learning problems and sought help from the teacher when needed. Discipline was seldom necessary.

"The parents liked what was going on," McKinley said. "Their kids were being taught differently than in the public schools. The parents were committed to Campus School."

While the program placed the burden of learning on students, teachers had to work overtime to accommodate 25 elastic and fertile minds.

Along with parents and faculty, McKinley was stunned when MSU administration abruptly shut down the Campus Lab School in 1990. She was transferred to the MSU Division of Science, where she served until her retirement in 1995.

Yet her heart will always remain with the little school that introduced big educational changes.

"I have very fond memories," she said. "I liked what I was doing. I enjoyed working with the people."

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