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A Century of Service: The Leaders Who Made the Difference


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Source: Curry


January 31, 2006 -- One hundred years ago a single, six-figure gift set the stage for the University of Virginia to establish what has become one of America’s leading schools of education. Over the years the Curry School has benefited from the passion, ingenuity, and commitment of a number of leaders who have helped it evolve in response to the changing needs of the profession. This article, based on a story from the Spring 2005 issue of Alumni News, chronicles the accomplishments of Curry’s leaders and the school to which they were dedicated.

Business leader, visionary, and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Sr., attached few conditions to the $100,000 gift he made in 1905 to establish a school of education at U.Va. He stipulated to his friend, new University president Edwin Alderman, only that the school be named for J. L. M. Curry, an educational reformer who, unlike many Southerners of his day, was an advocate for public education.

Alderman’s Dream

Alderman had no trouble accepting Rockefeller’s choice of a namesake. After all, Alderman was recognized as an educational reformer and proponent of public education in his own right. Furthermore, he had his own ideas about what a school of education at Thomas Jefferson’s university should strive to accomplish. Alderman outlined his interpretation of Jefferson’s beliefs regarding education in this excerpt from his U.Va. inaugural address.

“Mr. Jefferson perceived … education as an infl uence upon national as distinct from individual development, and … his mind played constantly around three lines of institutional reform in Virginia—elementary education… secondary instruction … and university education,” he said. “The largest social task of this University … is to strive for the accomplishment of these unrealized ideals. … The first step forward would be the establishment here of a school of education of such power that its teachers could approach … problems of educational statesmanship with insight and authority.”

Eleanor Wilson, associate professor of education and the author of a forthcoming history of the Curry School, believes that Alderman’s speech set Curry on an important — and unwavering —course that has served it well ever since.

“The education school’s continuing sense of a three-fold mission enhanced its survival at times when other universities were discontinuing their teacher education programs and becoming graduate schools specializing in educational policy, research, or other areas,” Wilson writes
in her introduction to the book.

From the beginning Alderman believed that teachers educated in the Curry School would become leaders in their profession. Even before Virginia’s General Assembly passed a bill creating Virginia’s system of public secondary education in 1906, teachers were being prepared
for the classroom in a U.Va.-sponsored School of Methods. In 1902 and 1903, the school attracted more than 1,000 students, including more than 60 African Americans who were taught separately by white instructors in a public school building. The University’s Summer School incorporated teacher instruction into a department in 1907. At its launch, the department boasted seven undergraduate and four graduate students.

The status of the Curry School improved when the Carnegie Foundation recognized the University as an“ approved college” in 1911. In a letter to the University Board of Visitors announcing the decision, the foundation acknowledged not only the University’s rich history, eminent faculty, and rising admission standards, but also made reference to “the work which has been done … in the development of the secondary schools of the state.”

Thanks to Alderman’s pervasive efforts on its behalf, the Curry School gained its own home when the Peabody Educational Fund appropriated funds for the construction of a building to house its expanding programs. At its 1914 opening, Peabody Hall was described as “of suffi cient dignity for a department of equal rank and dignity with any other in the University.”
Jennings Wagoner, Curry professor emeritus, credits Alderman with much of the School’s early success. “As a result of his enthusiasm for public education … the University in the fi rst decade of [the 20th] century assumed a commanding role as the capstone of Virginia’s public education system,” he says.

Innovation and Challenges

Although formidable in his own right, Alderman wasn’t Curry’s only early champion. John Levi Manahan joined the faculty in 1916 — and was appointed dean of the newly organized Department of Education in 1920.

Manahan had a background in school administration and, in addition to developing existing programs in this area, was interested in developing a primary school (or a“ school of childhood,” as he called it) in Peabody Hall. This school would provide opportunities for working educators to observe superior instruction by expert teachers and to establish a framework for
“ careful study … of the capacities and needs of each pupil as an individual and appropriate
methods and content employed to meet these needs.”

Although he was never able to create a laboratory school in Peabody Hall, Manahan did
launch a program of experimental education and teacher training in 1926 that enabled
students to perform “directed observation and teaching” in local schools. The program, which continued throughout his 30 years at Curry, was given a boost when University officials decided to admit white women to its graduate and professional schools in 1920. More than half of the women enrolled at U.Va. by 1925 were Curry students.

The school’s next champion was Lindley Stiles, appointed dean in 1949 by the new University president, Colgate Darden. Stiles supervised Curry’s transition from a department to a school at a time when other University professional schools were changing their status. He also helped to shift the School’s focus from methods toward a greater emphasis on the subjects that educators would teach. During his tenure the School began to grant master of education, education specialist, and doctor of education degrees. It also increased graduate enrollment tenfold and established the Division of Educational Research to serve the research and evaluation needs of educational agencies throughout Virginia.

Stiles was an advocate for minority Americans. He encouraged Walter N. Ridley to enroll in the Curry School and awarded him the University’s fi rst degree to an African American student, the nation’s fi rst to receive a doctorate degree from a traditionally white Southern university. Stiles played a central role in the Virginia desegregation case that was eventually represented in the Supreme Court under the umbrella of Brown v. Board of Education. He publicly referred to segregation as a “cancer that is eating away at the life blood of democracy.”

Ralph Cherry followed Stiles as Curry dean, serving between 1956 and 1968. Under Cherry, the School received accreditation from the newly formed National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Cherry was also able to begin increasing the size of the Curry faculty, and oversaw the fi rst organization of the school into six departments.

The years between 1968 and 1974 were a time of an increased national emphasis on the quality of education schools, especially on the quality of teacher education programs. In response to these challenges, Dean Frederick R.“ Ted” Cyphert further increased the size of the Curry faculty to nearly 120 members and raised to 20 its number of specialized programs, which included reading, gifted, and special education. Thanks to exceptional support from
University President Edgar Shannon, Cyphert was able to complete the doubling of Curry’s enrollment to 300 full-time and 500 part-time students.

He also encouraged the faculty to get involved in research activities and national education organizations. “I tend to believe that education is a fi eld of inquiry, rather than a way of knowing,” he said during a reunion of Curry’s fi ve living deans in 2001. “Knowing what exists
isn’t good enough for me.” Finally, Cyphert supervised the School’s 1973 move to Ruffner Hall, which has been its primary home since.

Cyphert’s successor was Richard Brandt, who served Curry between 1974 and 1984. In addition to standardizing the School’s faculty tenure and compensation policies, Brandt helped Curry navigate the type of internal and external reviews that were common as education schools nationwide sought to ensure the relevance of their programs. He is perhaps best known for creating the Curry School Foundation, the School’s fundraising arm, which today fi nances much of Curry’s growth.

A Revamped Teacher Education Program

James Cooper took the reins of the Curry School shortly after the release of A Nation at Risk, a report prepared by the National Commission on Excellence in Education that was highly critical of the American education system. Noting the presence of what it called “a rising tide of mediocrity” in the nation’s educational system, the report criticized teacher preparation models of the day, describing them as “weighted heavily with courses in ‘educational methods’ at the expense of courses in subjects to be taught.” The commission reported survey results from 1,350 teacher-training institutions indicating that their elementary school teacher candidates spent 41 percent of their time in education courses, signifi cantly reducing the amount of time available for courses in subjects they would be expected to teach.

Cooper, who had a background in teacher education, convened a task force of Curry faculty members to review the School’s program and to revamp it as necessary. After two years of work, the School introduced a fi ve-year teacher education program, the fi rst of its kind in the nation.The program, which continues to fl ourish today, offers students a general liberal arts education; in-depth knowledge of the subjects they plan to teach through U.Va.’s College
of Arts and Sciences; exposure to technology and multiculturalism; instruction in how to teach exceptional children; an introduction to pedagogy and the theory of education; and in-school teaching experience. Students graduate from the program with the master of teaching degree.

Even at its inception, Cooper was so confi dent of the program’s success that he offered Virginia school superintendents a guarantee: If any Curry graduate they hired wasn’t satisfactory, the dean would send out a Curry faculty member to bring the teacher up to speed. “I’ve been compared to the Maytag repairman who sits by the phone waiting for it to ring. It almost never did,” he says.

The Breneman Years: Leading Curry into Its Second Century

When economist David Breneman became Curry’s seventh dean 10 years ago, he joined a school that he described as physically and fi nancially sound, but that “exists in a world of diminishing fi nancial resources.” He promptly worked with the faculty to develop a strategic plan for the School because, as he put it, “the opportunity cost of mistakes is high.”

The plan that Breneman and the faculty developed is providing a blueprint for the School’s
second century of service through its pursuit of the following goals: meeting the multiple needs of all children, particularly those who are most vulnerable; strengthening Curry’s role in advancing educational technology; enhancing its reputation as a source of empirical educational
research; creating partnerships with experts across the School and beyond; and maintaining a structure for Curry that enhances its potential, both on and off Grounds.

To that end, Curry has launched three promising programmatic initiatives that have been described in recent school publications: Teachers for a New Era, the Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education, and the Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning.
Breneman, in addition to supervising the hiring of numerous faculty members to replace those now eligible for retirement, has also overseen the accreditation of the School’s Teacher Education Program by the Teacher Education Accreditation Council. Curry is the nation’s
first program to receive this designation.

Under his leadership, the School has secured a $22 million gift from Daniel Meyers, a Boston-based businessman, which the donor has designated for a new home for the school. “It seems Ruffner Hall has been too small for us since the day we moved in,” Breneman says. “Our faculty and staff are scattered all over Charlottesville. The new building will enable us to bring all of Curry together in one place.”

As the Curry School enters its second century, it remains true to its original mission as articulated by Edwin Alderman and carried forth by a succession of prescient leaders. Thanks to the service of these dedicated scholars, the School is well positioned to meet the signifi cant
challenges its students, faculty, and graduates face in the rapidly changing field of education.



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Last Modified: Wednesday, 10-May-2006 10:15:56 EDT
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