Mary Jo McGrath

Mary Jo McGrath, (born 1946) founder and chief executive officer of McGrath Training Systems,[1] Santa Barbara, California, is an investigative attorney with expertise in education and personnel law. In 1986, she established McGrath Training Systems, a training and development company specializing in providing legally fit and educationally sound training to school administrators. Each program has been personally designed to educate and inspire participants to create a safe and productive school environment. This unique and valuable approach to training is offered on-site, by distance learning, and on video to district management, staff, students, and also to the public and private organizations. She is the author of School Bullying: Tools for Avoiding Harm and Liability (Corwin Press, 2007).[2]

Mary Jo has dedicated her adult life to helping school districts keep children safe from harm, and to fostering a climate of trust, respect, understanding and growth in the administration of school districts. In recognition of her work, she was tapped to serve on a federal panel designed to keep schools safe. From 2000-2002, Mary Jo served as the chairperson of the United States Department of Education Expert Panel on Safe, Disciplined and Drug-Free Schools (SDDFS).[3] The ongoing, 15-member SDDFS Expert Panel includes education practitioners; researchers; evaluators; program developers; and representatives from local and state education agencies; businesses; institutions of higher education; and from medical and legal communities. The Panel’s purpose is to oversee a process to identify and designate school-based programs that promote safe, disciplined and drug-free schools. Under Mary Jo’s leadership, the SDDFS, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education, identified nine exemplary [4] and 33 promising programs [5] that fulfilled that goal.

As an expert on the subject of educator sexual abuse and sexual harassment in education, Mary Jo is frequently interviewed by national media researching the topic. She contributed to a 2007 Associated Press expose on educator sexual abuse, and was a guest on national television news programs that discussed this epidemic. Mary Jo has served as an expert witness expert witness on high-profile, nationally recognized cases of educator sexual abuse of students, including the civil trial of Mary Kay Letourneau,[6] the Des Moines, Washington, middle school teacher convicted of raping her male student, who fathered two of her children.

Throughout her law career, Mary Jo has investigated many allegations of sexual harassment and sexual abuse in schools. She is the author of The Bread Crumb Trail: A Straight Line from Sexual Misconduct to Sexual Abuse in Schools and The Psychodynamics of School Sexual Abuse Investigations.[7] The first article explores the victim and perpetrator profiles, outlines green-, yellow- and red-flag behaviors, and explores the school district’s duty to protect students. The article on investigations discusses the challenges inherent in conducting an administrative investigation of educator sexual harassment and/or abuse of students. The McGrath Training System Sexual Abuse and Misconduct Awareness and Complaint Intake and Investigation training programs provide educators with the learning and tools they need protect students from predatory school employees.

Mary Jo obtained her law degree in 1977, and almost immediately began focusing on the area of education law. She quickly became a leading expert on teacher termination litigation and employee supervision, evaluation and discipline. During that time, she was a partner and/or associate with the law firms of Littler, Mendelson, Fastiff and Tichy; Pettit & Martin; and Richards, Watson & Girshon. In each firm, her focus was on education and employment law.

She represented school districts and other public and private organizations in constitutional, statutory and common law cases involving employee layoff, discipline and termination, collective bargaining, wrongful dismissal, sexual harassment and abuse, employment and educational discrimination, student rights, special education, student sexual harassment, and general education law issues. During this time, Mary Jo’s track record for successfully discharging tenured teachers earned her the nickname of “The Terminator.”

In 1989, Mary Jo established the Law Offices of Mary Jo McGrath, Santa Barbara, California. She continued her specialization in legal matters relating to education, representing and counseling many school districts on a broad range of education law issues. Six years later, she became a partner in the firm of Mullen & Henzell, in Santa Barbara. There, she continued to hone her expertise in education and personnel law and labor negotiations. Mary Jo represented school districts in an all types of education law matters, including the remediation and dismissal of incompetent teachers. She represented both public and private organizations in the area of sexual harassment, including the investigation of sexual harassment complaints.

For 12 years, Mary Jo watched one school district after another grapple with the problem of ineffective performance by teachers, administrators and staff, and the difficulties the districts had in addressing these shortcomings. She saw the legal bills mounting and witnessed the decline in morale in districts that failed to effectively communicate about employee performance. These problems, coupled with Mary Jo’s study of human dynamics, leadership and personal growth, lead her to create a unique approach to constructive communication: the System Using Constructive Communication to Enhance Effectiveness and Development. By following the SUCCEED principles, taught in the McGrath SUCCEED with Communications, Supervision, Evaluation and Leadership course, employers facilitate trust, respect, understanding and growth in their faculty and staff. This leads to improved retention of quality teacher, and higher student achievement.

Tactics utilized by SUCCEED permeate McGrath Training Systems programs. A foundation of SUCCEED is the McGrath FICA Standard, a four-point logic method that helps users organize thoughts and facts so that they can be shared constructively, verbally or in writing, and result in a definitive and measurable course of action. This program has been taught to more than 300,000 school personnel in the United States and Canada, as well as many governmental agencies in the United States.

Mary Jo’s present-day expertise has earned her recognition as “The Motivator,” in recognition of her capability to inspire leadership and her expertise as a relationship builder.

Always innovating, Mary Jo was among the first entrepreneurs to exploit the Internet by developing interactive online learning programs. Her CyberSchool (virtual school) programs on Sexual Abuse and Misconduct, Sexual Harassment and Bullying in schools have earned accolades. Some of her online training programs have been approved for college credits.

She also has produced training videos on topics within her area of expertise. These video offer educational institutions the opportunity to help the appropriate constituent groups learn at their convenience. Some videos are targeted to school children, from kindergarten through high school, while others are geared for administrators or parents.

Her other areas of expertise include risk management of school-related functions, such as athletic liability and extracurricular activities, as well as diversity training and Civil Rights compliance.

Mary Jo has been widely published in professional journals, such as the American Association of School Personnel Administrators [8] and The School Administrator, published by the American Association of School Administrators, and the Journal of the Association of Trail Lawyers of America. She has been featured in articles in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Business Week, The Christian Science Monitor, Reader’s Digest, Redbook and Seventeen Magazine.

Insurance companies and school risk management pools recommend her loss control training programs to their membership. These risk management sessions focus on limiting liability for educational and labor-related exposures, helping schools keep children safe and save money on litigation.

She served as an expert consultant to California Governor’s Office on education-related issues. Mary Jo has appeared as a featured legal expert on CNN, MSNBC, CBS Evening News with Dan Rather; Eye to Eye with Connie Chung, ABC 20/20, and 48 Hours with Paula Zahn.

Mary Jo is a California native. She began her studies at Los Angeles Community College, graduating magna cum laude in 1972. Mary Jo obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1974 from the University of California, Los Angeles, magna cum laude. She obtained her Juris Doctor degree in 1977, cum laude, from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, where she served as student director of the Loyola Law Clinic, Juvenile Court Division.


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