Faith Dunne and Nancy Mohr Scholarship Fund
Contributions to this fund support scholarships for teachers and other educators to take part in SRI’s annual winter meeting and other SRI events. We are deeply appreciative to Faith’s son Matt Dunne and Nancy’s spouse, Alan Ditcher for their permission and blessing of this scholarship fund.
It is fitting that we remember Faith and Nancy through a scholarship fund since they were first and foremost teachers who championed educators as leaders in school reform. They were instrumental in introducing thousands of educators to the power and hard work of teacher collaboration, critical friendship and facilitative leadership as tools to realize educational equity and excellence.
Faith and Nancy might be unfamiliar names to many members of the SRI community. Faith passed away in 2001 and Nancy in 2003 but their legacies live on. On these pages we introduce and celebrate them and their work that continues today through SRI.
Faith Leah Dunne was born in 1940 in Buffalo, New York, and educated at schools in Los Angeles and Buffalo. In 1962, she graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Michigan, where she was the first woman editor of the Michigan Daily. In 1974, she received a doctorate in education from Harvard University, with a focus on teachers as change agents in school improvement.
She taught at public schools in Lexington, Massachusetts, and Great Neck, New York, and at Wesleyan and Harvard Universities. In 1974, she joined the faculty of Dartmouth College, where she became the first woman to earn tenure and was instrumental in developing the Education Department, which she chaired from 1980-89. At Dartmouth, she conducted pioneering studies of rural schools and established a national reputation as an expert on rural education. She fostered close ties between the College’s Education Department and school practitioners. A passionate teacher and mentor, she was recognized in 1996 by Dartmouth students and alumni for her outstanding service as a professor.
Faith and her husband, John Bailey Dunne, made their home at Harlow Brook Farm in Hartland, Vermont, where they raised their sons Matthew and Joshua and kept sheep, pigs, poultry, cattle, and a large vegetable garden. They were active members of the local community, and founded the Vermont/New York Project, bringing children from Manhattan to Vermont for enrichment programs. After John’s death in 1982, Faith continued their commitment to community engagement, which included her service on the Hartland School Board from 1977-83.
Faith’s conviction that teachers could play a central role in reform efforts led her to join the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University in 1989. At AISR she worked with Gene Thompson-Grove and Paula Evans as a founding designer of the National School Reform Faculty Program. Declaring her engagement with NSRF “the best work I’ve ever done,” she retired from her position at Dartmouth in 1997 in order to devote her energies full time to the national reform effort. In 1999, after a decade of consulting in schools and districts around the country, Faith decided it was time to “bring the work home to Vermont.” At the time of her death in 2001, she was working with Vermont-based facilitators to establish a Center of Activity in her home state while continuing her leadership role on the national level.
Now, nearly a decade later, the School Reform Initiative carries on Faith Dunne’s vision of transformational learning communities. The integrity, scope, and vitality of SRI’s work today is a tribute to her passion for excellent teaching, high quality collaboration, and unwavering attention to students’ real needs.
Reflections and Remembrances
Last school year I took a New Coaches course with Faith. We met once a month, Sept-June, for 4 hours. We had a chance to get to know her and her work. And, I was looking forward to continuing the work with her this year. What I loved most about her is her impatience with ignorance. It made her an inspiring teacher. And, I loved her comments… “Allow people to get out there on the skinny branches.” “For someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” “If you push a person into the danger zone, then you will never see them again…and I don’t know much but I know that full well.” …or “Whoever discovered water, it sure wasn’t a fish.” I’ll be on that very long list of people who will miss her terribly.
Faith spearheaded the “Upper Valley Coaches Seminar” during her final year and brought this learning right in through the front door of the Ray Elementary School in Hanover, NH. As Ray School teachers Faith enabled us to at long last bust through and unbuild “from the top” the walls of “privatization” in our teaching practice and begin reconstructing through collaborating. She helped us select fitting tools for important jobs involved in the process.
We were blessed to have her mastery skills amongst us guiding our daily practice for the year. She helped us build a rather sturdy and level foundation. We miss her as we continue problem solving and renovating this artful construction we call education.
Faith was direct and courageous, insightful and humorous. My best memories of her are laces with her provocative use of language…irony, humor, insight all wrapped into one clear comment.
She once emailed me after one of my comments on the listserv and called me a “radical incendiary”…
What will our world of schools, and children and educators around the national and rural Vermont life be without Faith????
We keep her wit and honesty…we share the insight she shared with us…and we laugh together to be radical on her behalf for the sake of children and youth everywhere…
Because I knew her, I will never be the same…Her spirit gives me courage to continue…She is with us still!!!
“The most successful reforms”, Faith said, “are ones that re amorphous enough that they can work in different ways in different contexts.”
Paula Evans, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Faith was a great friend and colleague. Some time in early 90s she came to visit Ted Sizer at Brown. He brought her up to my little office in Mieklejohn House and introduced her. That was the beginning of a partnership where, with Gene Thompson-Grove, we created one scheme after another to ensure that teachers and principals were front and center in the work of CES and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. Faith was so smart and so irreverent. She loved to laugh and cook and eat good food. She was a great writer and she taught me everything I know (still not that much) about educational research.
Faith, Gene, and I hatched the consultancy protocol around my kitchen table. We learned from each other and challenged each other. We birthed Citibank Faculty and Thompson Fellows, and then, in collaboration with those folks, grew the National School Reform Faculty.
The last conversation I had with Faith, just days before she died, I remember to this day. I was changing course in my professional life – a brief detour. As I told her over the phone what I was up to, she screamed – “Are you out of your ****ing mind?” That was Faith. She never held back. She was refreshingly honest. How wonderful.
Martha Rich, Thetford, Vermont
In the months since Faith died . . .We’ve begun to find ways of carrying on the work, and they are the ways she taught us: collaborate and connect, build trust and capacity, keep the core values in view and attend well to the details . . .. The saving grace is that old “wisdom of geese,” where the flock keeps flying in the same direction while different birds take turns as leaders. Faith would be proud, I think, to know that we’re figuring out how to do that in her absence.
Nancy was born in Pennsylvania but moved to her “native” Brooklyn as a small child, when her father, a Lutheran Minister, accepted a pastorship there. After graduating high school, Nancy began her studies at Baruch College but withdrew before finishing to marry and then raise her two sons, Stephen and Graham. Following her divorce at age 30, Nancy returned to school to finish her undergraduate degree at Brooklyn College and earn her teaching credentials. Nancy graduated in 1972 and began teaching high school English in Brooklyn. Early in her career, she met a young teacher, Alan Dichter, and was assigned as his buddy teacher! – They soon fell in love, married, and began their lives together, along with Nancy’s sons. As one family, they settled in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn and Nancy and Alan nurtured their partnership personally and professionally co-facilitating, co-authoring, and co-creating on behalf of school reform throughout their 30-year marriage.
Nancy was the founding principal of one of New York City’s first small high schools, University Heights High School in the Bronx – a school that still serves children and families in respectful and meaningful ways and is currently led by one of Nancy’s former students. After retiring from the principalship in 1994, Nancy continued her career as a school reformer working first at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and then as an educational consultant and director of the National School Reform Faculty New York at New York University. Nancy led hundreds of workshops and seminars for school leaders throughout the United States and Australia often helping school communities to focus on the design and management of more collaborative and effective work environments for teachers and children. She was passionate about issues of equity and democracy and was a nationally recognized expert on professional learning communities and the use of protocols to create critical discourse. In 2003 Teachers College Press published The Power of Protocols, a book on the subject that Nancy wrote with colleague. A second edition dedicated to Nancy was published in 2007.
Nancy was an accomplished chef and consummate entertainer. She briefly ran a cooking school and became a collector of cookbooks. Her later writing about schools and school leadership often drew on culinary images and metaphors. At the time of her death she was still active in school reform and was working as part of a re-design team for high schools in Seattle and Washington State. Nancy passed away on September 18, 2003 in Manhattan at age 62, one month after holding her new grandchild.
Reflections and Remembrances
Yesterday I felt Nancy’s energy rise up and rain on all the hundreds of us across the country. Nancy is a gift to all of us, like the precious dust on the wings of a monarch butterfly that will help us fly so far, so very far, and do the work in the work that needs doing. Missing her will be remembering her and all she taught and gave and shared and cared about. A miracle in red high tip sneakers! –
It is with great respect that I write these words as a tribute to my dear colleague, Nancy Mohr. As an Annenberg Principal in the 1996 cohort, I had the opportunity and honor to be with Nancy on many summer retreats and meetings throughout the years. She was an inexplicably profound teacher as well as school reformist. She challenged me to think systematically about my practice and learn from my experiences. She was a keen facilitator who provided a process that allowed me to dialogue with colleagues and be asked the hard questions. Nancy allowed me to reflect on my practice, showcase it, examine it with colleagues and critical friends, and then bring it to the next level. Each summer, I had the benefit of Nancy’s work at our summer conferences. Each time, I was able to return to my work with a revitalization and sense of purpose from the work Nancy and I facilitated with our principal group. Each time, I would often search without realization for this revitalization, as I search for water when thirsty. When I would achieve the revitalization or quenched my thirst, it was an “oh, ah ha!” for I would realize that I had just experienced something quite powerful and transforming. Nancy made me reflect on the essence of my profession and its impact on children. Nancy was my teacher as well as my friend. She shared her laughter and joy of living with all of us. It was an honor and privilege to have Nancy in my life. She has a very special place in my heart.
I started teaching at University Heights fresh out of graduate school. After my interview, Nancy asked me if I was willing to work really hard! That ought to tell us something about her dedication and devotion to students everywhere.
Like the lid on your flour-basted simmering gift of chicken and garlic or merlot-colored polish on freshly manicured nails, this is what adheres to mind and heart:
Unfathomable courage in the face of illness
Perserverance in the face of resistance
Passion for life, passion for work, passion for ideas
Passion for equity, passion for justice
Connoisseurship of life’s offerings: food, wet dog kisses, photo shoots
Strong, sure, fast steps leading the way, in true “Northerner” style
Relentless pursuit of the perfect black bag
Amazing laughter, enveloping hugs, mysterious culinary sneezes
Tending of friendships, old and soon to be
Thinking, learning, teaching, always
Missing you, thanking you, always.
Joe McDonald, New York, New York
She [Nancy] was a connector. The vitality of any society and its capacity to embrace novelty and to undergo real change, and in this case, to improve, depend on those few people who can do what Nancy could do…So, here’s the recipe for being a connector, as taught to me…
First, you have to take a genuine interest in people as people. Second, you have to reach well beyond the people you would ordinarily take an interest in if you were just letting life pass by without seizing it.
Third, you have to base your work on what people need, but you have to press them to need a better world, and you have to offer them a glimpse of one.
Fourth, you have to dare to transgress in your connecting work– to violate the rules, cut across ordinary expectations, step out of bounds, change the protocol. Fifth and finally, you have to give people a context for coming together, and you have to understand that at the heart of any context is a text – something invested with meaning and beauty.
Steven Strull, East Rockaway, New York
Reflections of Nancy…
My most vivid and enduring image and memory of Nancy happens to be fragments of moments the last time I was in her physical presence. She was standing, as she did so often, at the kitchen island that was her domain. Alan, my wife Michelle, and I were drinking, eating, talking while Nancy conducted the evening. Like a virtuoso she welcomed us, cooked for us, coached us, and made us feel special. Nancy always made people feel special.
As I reflect on my dear friend, my critical friend, and I am proud to say my colleague, I am flooded with many bits of images – of time spent together, pieces of conversations remembered for the umpteenth time, and flashes of observations at a Fall Forum cocktail reception, a meeting room in some hotel in some city, an airport waiting room, the back of a taxi, or the home she shared with Alan – that amazing room on Park Avenue South. An idea, a thought, a sentiment, a moment of clarity or confusion and Nancy comes to mind. Her influences on my person and on my thinking were profound, yet I only knew her the last decade or so of her too short life – others will have to fill in earlier fragments and moments.
For me, and for countless others, Nancy was a sage – the person to turn to figure right from wrong; crisp thinking vs. sloppy thinking; morality without judgment. She was patient when others wouldn’t or couldn’t be and she could explain something again and again; possibly irritated but not annoyed Nancy was always the teacher, and for her, that meant learner as well.
One of the many times NSRF turned to Nancy to teach and learn together was when we embarked on our equity journey. Having left Annenberg, we began the critical discourse necessary to move our work forward. Nancy, along with her colleague and ally Victor Carey of the then Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools (BAYCES) helped us in those beginning understandings as both NSRF and BAYCES began practices specifically, and though not knowing it at the time, fiercely focused on issues of equity – the basic understanding of how the hidden curriculum has a predictive value on student achievement and for Nancy, what we should do about that.
For Nancy, as I remember it, the doing was in the knowing and she had a way of knowing that made us all – and I know me – better and smarter. Nancy made me understand the privilege of white skin – how that privilege was unearned, and how I had an obligation as a white skinned person to understand that privilege and its impact on my expectations for the educative achievement of other people’s children. She made me see the otherwise, another way of knowing and being, a consideration, a change in thought process, a learning, a beginning, and an awakening. Nancy was unwavering in her commitment to equity inquiry and she was unwavering in her commitment to me – and I am forever grateful. I can only imagine how proud Nancy would be of the School Reform Initiative right now as we prepare to come to her home town and seat our first elected Board of Directors – a Board that will be purposefully and definitionally diverse. I can see and feel her knowing smile.
As I write and think about Nancy, I do so in the place I came, in part because of Nancy. My own journey had taken me from Chicago to Boston and in the moments of that last time I was with Nancy, I was in the middle of the recruitment process that eventually brought my family and me to New York. I’m not sure if she knew how influential she was in my considerations and the very sad part, for me, about that transition is that Nancy never knew about it.
A bunch of us were in Chicago for some meeting when we got the call that Nancy had become very ill and would not likely survive – we were stunned and dazed and together, almost as if Nancy had planned for us to be together. Whatever we were doing, talking about, or planning stopped and we hit the phones to tell our national friends and colleagues of this very sad news. The exact sequence is a blur to me, but late that afternoon I took a walk, alone, through and around some very familiar streets and passageways. I was thinking deeply about Nancy and her influence on me and as I was walking aimlessly, I received the call from New York – the job was mine if I wanted it and how soon could I move to New York.
How soon could I move to New York?!?! – A New York that no longer included the physical presence of Nancy Mohr; how could that even be possible? I spoke with Nancy a lot that evening and told her I would be coming – her coaching had worked and I was achieving a goal and I was sad, angry, and confused that she wouldn’t be there to greet me, to teach me, to mentor me. My friend wouldn’t be in New York when I got there and there would always be a missing criticism, now and forever. For it was her ability to be my critical friend – and a critical friend to scores of others that would be missed most.
I feel very fortunate to have known Nancy and for her to be a part of my life. Her influence remains, though many years have passed, and as I move around her town as I do most days, I am often reminded of her work, her passion, and her influence. It is an honor to write this reflection for Nancy as SRI launches its scholarship fund in her name. Every time we gather at our annual Winter Meeting we will know that folks are there because of Nancy’s legacy. It is a fine way for us to pay tribute, to the very finest among us.
Thank you Nancy for all that you did and for your enduring spirit and influence – it remains with each of us.
East Rockaway, New York
December 15, 2010