Rebecca Holcombe ’05SM Collaborates to Create Change

School of Management alumna serves as Vermont Secretary of Education

Rebecca Holcombe, a former teacher and principal, has been hailed by leading educational policy analyst Diane Ravitch as a hero of American education.

As Secretary of Education in Vermont, one of many states strapped for resources, Holcombe worries that America may be creating a narrow educational system at the expense of the learning that is vital to creative thinking, economic development, civic life, and personal achievement.

The daughter of United Nations workers, Holcombe attended U.S. government run international schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, followed by boarding school just outside Boston. She earned degrees from Brown University and Harvard, directed Dartmouth College’s Teacher Education Program, and earned her MBA from the Simmons School of Management. She is currently working toward her doctorate at Harvard.

Prior to her appointment as Secretary of Education in September 2013, Holcombe taught middle and high school. She was principal of the Fairlee School, and went on to found the four-town, two-state Rivendell Interstate School District – an ingenious solution that worked to address shrinking budgets and rising expectations.

Declining enrollments throughout Vermont and New Hampshire forced policymakers to consider ways to collaborate and consolidate. But beyond cost savings, Holcombe’s plan also created lasting value for students. Parents, teachers, and board members collaborated to create an innovative, coherent curriculum for the new K-12 system.  

Holcombe credits the School of Management with giving her the skills to analyze a problem from every angle and work to enable change.

“For me, a big part of going to Simmons for an MBA was to build my ability to understand what the system was telling us about the health and strength of our program and where it needed to grow,” says Holcombe. “If you can’t understand the story the numbers are telling you, you’re going to get policy that just doesn’t work.”

She works to maintain a sense of reality and momentum in a world that is highly politicized and regulated. 

“I surround myself with people who will challenge me,” she says. “The real challenge in leadership is preserving energy and time for the things that matter.”