School of Education and Human Development Dean Bob Pianta to Step Down

By Audrey Breen

Pianta’s strategic vision as dean resulted in a remarkable expansion of academic offerings, research, and partnerships during his 14-year tenure.

The University of Virginia announced today that Bob Pianta, the Batten Bicentennial Professor of Early Childhood Education, will step down as dean of the School of Education and Human Development at the end of the 2021-22 academic year.

A preeminent scholar working at the intersection of education and human development, Pianta served on the faculty of the school before becoming dean in 2007. During his time on the faculty, he founded and directed the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, championing the ideal that together, researchers and practitioners from across disciplines can create transformative change for good. As dean, his commitment to improve outcomes for teachers and students was matched only by his commitment to building a community at the School of Education and Human Development that supports and develops students, faculty and staff; promotes new knowledge; and sustains a lasting connection to alumni and partners.

“I have loved my time as dean,” he said. “Nothing could be more energizing for me than leading a school of exceptionally talented people dedicated to a mission of supporting education and human development. I am so very grateful to our staff, to our faculty and students, and to the many friends of the school who have supported me and Ann as we have moved along this path these past years. We have benefitted in so many ways from people who care about our mission, and I cherish their support.”

When Pianta began as dean, the school’s academic portfolio was largely focused on graduate education, particularly doctoral programs. Expanding UVA undergraduates’ opportunities to engage with the school’s academic offerings and faculty expertise has been a priority for Pianta. In addition to its prestigious doctoral programs, the school is also now home to six undergraduate majors and two minors, including the first-of-its-kind youth and social innovation major.

In 2018, Pianta joined education leaders, policymakers and other researchers in supporting efforts to combat teacher shortages across Virginia, including licensing teachers with a bachelor’s degree. The teacher education program’s three majors now lead directly to licensure in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In addition to its doctoral and undergraduate programs, the school boasts a vibrant community of students seeking master’s degrees, several of which are newly created and designed to be responsive to the needs of practicing professionals. The school is also now home to degree partnerships with five UVA schools, including the innovative MBA-M.Ed. dual degree program with the Darden School of Business. Along with these degree partnerships, the school is also home to a national program for education leaders with Darden, and multiple research projects with the School of Engineering.

Over the course of the past five years the school has created a robust online portfolio, offering eight online degrees, in addition to certificate programs and professional development opportunities.

Pianta’s leadership in expanding the scope and excellence of the school’s programs drew attention and recognition across the country. Under Pianta’s tenure as dean, the School of Education and Human Development soared in U.S. News and World Report rankings from No. 35 to No. 15, with its online portfolio ranked No. 10. Year after year, individual programs within the school were also ranked among the top 10 nationally, many in the top five. And the faculty is routinely recognized among the top in the country’s best, according to Education Week.

“Bob has been an exceptional dean – he and the faculty and staff have nurtured collaborations, expanded access and deepened excellence,” Provost Liz Magill said. “National recognition is just one measure of the impact of these efforts. An even more important measure is real progress on difficult problems facing educators today, and under Bob’s leadership, the School of Education and Human Development has made significant inroads on these pressing issues.”

Pianta’s strategic vision resulted in a remarkable expansion of research, with a nearly three-fold growth of overall research funding during his 14-year tenure. He oversaw the founding of Youth-Nex: The UVA Center to Promote Effective Youth Development; the EdPolicyWorks research center, founded in partnership with the Batten School; the Center for Race and Public Education in the South; and the Supporting Transformative Autism Research initiative, in addition to many other research labs. Most recently, the school has championed new and innovative scholarship in classroom simulation and an emerging focus in neuroscience and education.

For Pianta, every growth area created an opportunity to forge lasting partnerships that bore fruit. His commitment to applied scholarship resulted in wide-ranging connections with scholars, educators, clinicians and policymakers. This has been true in the commonwealth, and his commitment to this model of work extends well beyond state lines. Under Pianta’s leadership, the school established fruitful partnerships with departments of education in New York City and Washington, D.C.; with state governments in Virginia, Louisiana, Indiana and Tennessee; and with countries around the world, including many in Latin America.

With a deep commitment to the Commonwealth of Virginia, Pianta stewarded the growth of the UVA K-12 Advisory Council, where superintendents from more than 100 school divisions across Virginia come together with UVA faculty. Under his leadership, the school has partnered with the commonwealth in finding solutions to challenges like teacher retention, improving literacy and increasing access to high-quality early childhood education in communities across the state. Currently, the school is working with K-12 schools as they begin to recover from the impacts of COVID through research, scholarship, teaching and service.

Pianta also left his mark on the footprint of the school. Taking the reins from his predecessor, David Brenneman, who spearheaded the efforts to fund a new building for the school, Pianta oversaw the construction and opening of Bavaro Hall. Under his leadership, the history behind the namesakes of the school and one of its buildings were reviewed, and ultimately both were renamed. And this month, the school’s Kinesiology Department is moving into its new home, the Student Health and Wellness Center on Grounds.

In all of these efforts, Pianta has pursued innovation in academics and research for the benefit of making a widespread, positive impact. He has consistently practiced what he has encouraged every class of incoming students to do: “Ask questions, create connections with all kinds of people, and approach the challenges before you with as much curiosity you can muster. And of course, don’t forget to have fun.”

“Over the past 15 years, Bob Pianta has transformed the School of Education and Human Development through his innovative leadership, and I’ve been grateful to have him as a friend, colleague and fellow student of education,” UVA President Jim Ryan said. “While we will miss having him as part of the University’s leadership team, he leaves the school poised for a bright future, for which I am incredibly grateful.”

Pianta and his wife, Ann McAndrew, will take a sabbatical after he steps down, spending time in Europe and with colleagues across the world. He has plans to write a book on the intersection of education and human development that can be used by practicing educators and scholars alike.