Sandy McDonnell, CEP’s Chairman Emeritus and Co-Founder, Passes Away

Washington, DC – With great sadness, the Character Education Partnership (CEP) announces the death of its chairman emeritus, Sanford (Sandy) N. McDonnell.

As the nation’s leading advocate for improving the culture and social climate in schools, Mr. McDonnell dedicated over 25 years of his life to creating safe and caring environments that foster and reinforce integrity, respect, responsibility, hard work and academic excellence. He founded and served as board chairman of CHARACTERplus, a regional network that includes character development in over 600 schools, across more than 100 districts throughout Missouri.

As a visionary and strategic leader, however, Mr. McDonnell looked beyond making a positive difference in just St. Louis and the state of Missouri. In the late 1980s, he joined a small group of other citizen leaders to discuss what could be done on a national level to develop good character in our nation’s youth, and to improve all schools in America. From that analysis, he was a founding leader of CEP, a national, Washington, DC-based nonprofit that advocates for and focuses on intentional and comprehensive character development in all schools.

“No other single American citizen has had a bigger impact in the field of character education than Mr. Sandy McDonnell,” said CEP’s President & CEO, Mark Hyatt.  “He changed and improved the lives of thousands and thousands of people, young and old, through his selfless service and leadership.”

Mr. McDonnell served as Chairman of the CEP Board for 12 years and Chairman Emeritus until his death on March 19th, at the age of 89.  Under his leadership, the organization established a strategic framework to guide and support school and community leaders, The 11 Principles of Effective Character Education.” For 18 years, Sandy was also the key figure behind the National Forum on Character Education, an event that now draws together educators from 45 states and 12-15 foreign countries each year.

Beyond this, Sandy McDonnell felt it was important to identify and recognize leadership and excellence in character education.  He also understood it was important to share effective strategies and best practices to help other schools. As such, he secured assistance from The John Templeton Foundation, Lockheed-Martin and other donors to support the National Schools of Character Program, which now includes more than 30 state-level affiliates that recognize schools at the state level.

Mr. McDonnell was also instrumental behind a significant change in the way character is defined today in America’s schools. Drawing on the work of scholars and researchers, he helped expanded the traditional view of moral character to include what is now widely known as “performance character.”  It includes other important and supportive dimensions of human development—qualities such as diligence, perseverance, positive attitude and the pursuit of excellence in school and all areas of life. Most recently, Mr. McDonnell was the driving force behind a White Paper that makes the case for character and leadership development during the college years.

Dr. Charles Haynes, CEP’s current Board Chairman, said, “Sandy McDonnell was the greatest exemplar of good character that I ever met.  He was a role model, a mentor, a leader, and a warm and compassionate human being that brought out the very best in everyone around him. We are a better nation and world because of Sandy McDonnell. All of us at the Character Education Partnership are committed to continuing our noble work to honor the legacy of this great man.”

Chairman Emeritus of the Character Education Partnership (CEP), a nonprofit based in Washington, DC, that leads the nation in helping schools across the country develop young people of good character for a just and compassionate society.

Details of Sandy McDonnell’s funeral service will be posted on the CEP website,, for those wishing to pay their respects to his wife, Priscilla, and other surviving family members.


No Refuge for Role Models

In schools, on playing fields, at home with family, wherever kids go—they need role models whom they know care about them and who want them to succeed. And these adults need to live the values that they hope to see in these children. Character can’t be taught in a vacuum. It really does take a village.
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