George McKenna was born and reared in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he distinguished himself as a scholar and athlete and where the seeds of his civil and human rights activism were nurtured. Upon receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in mathematics from Xavier University, at the age of 20, he was awarded a teaching fellowship to Loyola University, Chicago, where he earned an M.A. in mathematics. He holds a Doctor of Education Degree from Xavier University.
Dr. McKenna took a position in the Los Angeles Unified School District as a mathematics teacher. He also worked as an engineer for North American Aviation on the Apollo Moon Shot Project, but his love for teaching led him to remain in the field of education. While continuing his education at Loyola University Law School, UCLA, and California State University, Los Angeles, he taught at the secondary school and college levels; and, within a short time, he moved through the ranks of secondary school administrative positions.
As the Principal of George Washington Preparatory High School located in South Central Los Angeles, Dr. McKenna developed an implemented the Preparatory School Model, a program stressing academic excellence at all levels. In four years, he successfully changed an inner-city high school that had been torn by violence, low achievement and lack of community confidence into a school with an attendance waiting list, and nearly 80% of the graduates enrolled in college. Because of his success, Dr. McKenna’s programs have been widely modeled throughout the nation.
He served as Superintendent of the Inglewood Unified School District in California, Deputy Superintendent in Compton, California, Local District Superintendent in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools in Pasadena, California. He currently serves as an educational consultant providing professional development and support to school districts and community organizations.
Dr. McKenna has received international recognition for his work, receiving over 400 citations and awards from a host of civic, legislative and professional organizations. He was also recognized by President Reagan, who invited him to the White House to participate in a panel on school discipline. The President further acknowledged Dr. McKenna’s leadership at the 68th Annual National Convention of Secondary School Principals, where the President praised him as a “hero with faith in common-sense values.” Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis mentioned Dr. McKenna’s achievements during his presidential nomination speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention.
Dr. McKenna’s accomplishments have been featured in a wide variety of media, including Time, People, and Ebony magazines, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Detroit News. He has appeared on “The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather,” “Nightline” with Ted Koppel, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Nightwatch,” and a documentary film entitled “Chaos to Calm” produced by the California State Attorney General’s Office. Dr. McKenna is the subject of the award-winning CBS television movie entitled, “The George McKenna Story” starring Denzel Washington, which was broadcast in 1986 and again in 1989; and he was featured on the 1988 Miller Brewing Company Calendar of Great Black Educators. Dr. McKenna was the 1989 recipient of the Congressional Black Caucus’ Chairman’s Award and was inducted into the National Alliance of Black School Educators’ Hall of Fame in 1997. He is the author of California legislation, which permits parent release time from work to visit schools.
A strong advocate of building stable communities from within, Dr. George McKenna believes that an educational system, which emphasizes justice, equal opportunity and non-violence, is the primary vehicle for positive change in a pluralistic and technological society.