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Marva D. Collins
Marva D. Collins

Marva D. Collins, a legendary educator known for fostering expectations of excellence for children raised in the poor neighborhoods of Chicago, died last week at age 78.

Ms. Collins began her teaching career in Chicago, but soon became disillusioned with the public school system. So she cashed out her $5,000 pension and started her own school, an independent institution called Westside Prep designed to provide rigorous instruction to disadvantaged students.

As the pre-K-8 school grew, so too did Ms. Collins' fame. In 1981, her story was the subject of a made-for-television movie. Thousands of people visited the school to find out her secret of eliciting high achievement from students who, on paper, would not be expected to succeed.

Ms. Collins caught the attention of President-elect Ronald Reagan's transition team, but she turned down an offer to become U.S. secretary of education. In 2004, she was awarded a National Humanities Medal.

Westside Prep closed in 2008, as families were unable or unwilling to pay the $5,500 annual tuition. Ms. Collins moved to Hilton Head, S.C., to organize training programs for educators, The New York Times reported.

–Christina A. Samuels

Ronald Thorpe
Ronald Thorpe

Ronald Thorpe, the president and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, died last week after a battle with lung cancer. He was 63.

Mr. Thorpe had led the National Board since 2011, ushering in significant changes designed to increase the profile of the organization's flagship advanced-certification program and bolster teachers' professional status nationally. A well-known and energetic presence in the K-12 field, he worked as an education advocate for more than 40 years.

He served as vice president for education at the New York public television station WNET. He also held senior leadership roles at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Rhode Island Foundation, and the Wallace Foundation.

Early on, Mr. Thorpe worked at Phillips Academy Andover in Massachusetts, first teaching and then serving as assistant to then-headmaster Theodore R. Sizer, a well-known education reform leader whom Mr. Thorpe credited with shaping his views.

When Mr. Thorpe took over as head of the National Board, the organization's status had been waning for several years. He decreased the cost of certification and made the process more accessible for teachers.

–Liana Heitin

Kent D. Williamson
Kent D. Williamson

Kent D. Williamson, a former executive director of the National Council of Teachers of English, died June 7 after a long illness. He was 57.

Mr. Williamson served as head of the 35,000-member organization from 2000 to 2015. As he wrote on the NCTE website in February, he was an "unlikely choice" for the position. He had taught as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga and as a graduate assistant, but was never a K-12 English teacher. Prior to his time at the NCTE, Mr. Williamson had worked as an executive director for the American Dairy Science Association and as a development officer for the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

Under Mr. Williamson's leadership, the NCTE helped start such initiatives as the online teacher-resource hub ReadWriteThink and the widely celebrated National Day on Writing. He also directed the National Center for Literacy Education, a partnership started in 2011 between the NCTE and more than two dozen groups aimed at supporting teachers of all disciplines with literacy instruction.

–Liana Heitin

Vol. 34, Issue 36, Pages 4-5

Published in Print: July 8, 2015, as Obituaries
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