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With the death of T.H. Bell, not just Utah but the entire nation has lost one of the country's very most outstanding school leaders.

So outstanding, in fact, that Ted Bell's performance and values could easily be considered the standard by which top educators and school administrators should be measured.A modest, unassuming man who was plain-spoken without being harsh and firm but diplomatic, Dr. Bell was a lifelong public educator who wore every hat from high school science teacher and athletic coach to local and state school superintendent to college professor, author, head of Utah's state university system, and from 1981 to 1984 the nation's second secretary of education.

It's to President Ronald Reagan's credit that he named Bell to the Cabinet post knowing that the Utahn had favored the creation of the U.S. Department of Education that Reagan wanted to dismantle.

It's to Bell's credit that he preserved and in some ways strengthened the DOE without losing the confidence and respect of the chief executive at whose pleasure he served.

More than that, Bell scored a remarkable success in the broader mission of stirring a national debate about how to improve the nation's schools.

Though a champion of the DOE, he was concerned about federal domination of education and supported returning as much control over schools as possible to the grassroots level.

He defended the rights of students not to read controversial novels if they did not wish to and directed most of his criticism not at teachers but at school boards for setting their sights too low.

Bell persistently advocated changing the pay incentives for America's classroom teachers, most of whom are paid strictly by seniority and their degree of education rather than by their performance. He urged schools to emulate colleges by establishing career ladders leading to the rank of "master" teacher for those who would be the kindergarten-to-grade-12 equivalent of full professors.

Among his notable contributions to education in Utah were his efforts on behalf of merit pay and other incentives for good teaching, greater emphasis on vocational education, and improvements in school finance.

Dedicated, hard-working and extraordinarily well-liked, Bell was an innovator with the knack for perceiving and coming to grips with the major problems facing education. May his fine example long be remembered and emulated.