Administrative History

Gordon MacKay Ambach was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1934. After graduating from the Providence school system, he went on to attend Yale as an undergraduate, and received several graduate degrees in education from both Yale and Harvard. He taught history in East Williston, New York from 1958 to 1961, eventually becoming President of the East Williston Teachers Association. He later served with the U. S. Office of Education in 1961-1962, and from 1961-1963 was a program planner and legislative assistant for U.S. Commissioner of Education Frank Keppel. In 1963-1964, he served as Executive Secretary to the Higher Education Facilities Act Task Force.

Ambach joined the New York State Education Department first as a Special Assistant, later becoming Assistant Commissioner of Education for Long-Range Planning from 1967 to 1970. From 1970 to 1977, he served as Executive Deputy Commissioner of Education. He was inaugurated as Commissioner of Education and President of the University of the State of New York in 1977, and served in that capacity until 1987. During these years, Ambach, working with the New York State Board of Regents, developed and implemented the Regents Action Plan, the most comprehensive school reform plan in the nation at the time. The Regents Action Plan enacted rigorous graduation standards and more stringent benchmarks for both teacher and school performance.

Ambach’s work as commissioner also produced important changes in pre-kindergarten and adult education, as well as education technology. He played an important role at the White House Conference on Libraries and Information Science in 1979 and again in 1991. He also served on the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science from 1980 to 1985. Additionally, he continued the work of his predecessors in increasing access to education for minorities and the disabled.

In 1985, Ambach was elected President of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Consequently, in 1987, he left his post as New York State Commissioner of Education to become the Executive Director of the CCSSO and continued his work in education until his eventual retirement in 2001.