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School of Education celebrates 50 years

  • Celebrating the School of Education
    Celebrating the School of Education  Virginia "Ginnie" McLaughlin, dean of the School of Education, stands near the new history wall that was created in the school in honor of its modern 50th anniversary.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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A family reunion of sorts will take place at the William & Mary School of Education on Saturday as former and current faculty, staff, alumni and students gather to celebrate the modern school’s 50th anniversary.

“Our education school has done remarkable deeds during its first half century, making a real difference for the better in the Commonwealth and around the country,” said William & Mary President Taylor Reveley. “Its impact on education, especially K12, has been enormous.”

Events will begin with tours of the School of Education at 2 p.m., followed by a short program in the Matoaka Woods Room at 3 p.m. The program will feature remarks from Dean Virginia McLaughlin, Reveley, and several notable alumni and current students. At 4 p.m., a birthday party and tailgate will be held in the school’s courtyard. The tours and program are free and open to the public. The public may also attend the tailgate. Tickets for food are $15 for adults, $5 for children and $5 for students. They may be purchased at

“Fifty years is usually considered over-the-hill, but I think for this school of education, we’re just really coming into our own,” said McLaughlin.

A long history

Dot Finnegan, an associate professor of education, was asked by McLaughlin in 2010 to compile a history of the School of Education.

With the help of two doctoral students, Neal Holly and Kimberly Brush, she found that though this year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the modern School of Education, the history of pedagogy at William & Mary stretches back much further. In fact, if it weren’t for education, the College might not be here today.

In 1882, the College found itself with a lack of students and limited funds, and President Benjamin S. Ewell was forced to suspend classes until a solution could be devised. Ewell and the College’s Board of Visitors began to search for new funding sources and saw that money had been provided to establish “normal schools” – teacher training programs – at Farmville (Longwood College) and Petersburg (Virginia State). The president and the board lobbied the state, and in March 1888 the governor signed the General Assembly’s act to open a normal school for men at the College in conjunction with its collegiate course.

“Probably until well into the early teens, the number of normal students and the number of students studying for a teaching license significantly outnumbered the collegiate students,” said Finnegan. “In some ways, the education program saved the college because there were very few collegiate students and most students went two years to the normal school and then continued on under their state scholarships to finish their B.A. but also to get their license to teach.”

In the 1920s and 1930s, under the leadership of President Julian Alvin Chandler, the education program thrived and even expanded into Norfolk and Richmond, paving the way for the establishment of Old Dominion University and Virginia Commonwealth University. In 1927, the department was elevated to a school of education under the deanship of Kremer J. Hoke, who also served as the dean of the College.

Just one decade later, President John Stewart Bryan demoted the school to a department again after much debate among the College’s Board of Visitors about the direction of the College.

“He would have just as soon gotten rid of education completely,” said Finnegan, “but he recognized the College’s commitment to the state to continue the education program as well as the relationship with the Mathew Whaley School, which had been our model school since 1894.”

Education continued as a department at William & Mary for more than three decades, continuing its extension work throughout the peninsula and region, until the faculty petitioned for it to become a school again. On Jan. 14, 1961, the Board of Visitors authorized the creation of the school to begin operation on Sept. 1, 1961.

Howard K. Holland, who led the department into becoming a school, served as its first dean. After Holland’s retirement, Richard Brooks took the helm, pushing for more faculty members and new degree programs, including higher education and counseling.

James Yankovich served as the next dean, shifting the focus of the school from extension courses to outreach service programs. Such programs and services as the Rita Welsh Adult Literacy Program, the Eastern Virginia Writing Project, and the New Horizons Family Counseling Center were established under his deanship.

John M. Nagle became the dean in 1983. He pushed for the support and recognition of the school’s faculty. Under his leadership, the first faculty chairs were attained and a development board was established.

In 1995, McLaughlin took on the dean’s position. During her tenure, she has realigned the faculty and programs in the school into three units and pushed for national and international scholarship as well as service to regional schools. McLaughlin also championed and oversaw the move of the School of Education from Jones Hall to the newly constructed building on the site of the old Sentara Williamsburg Community Hospital on Monticello Avenue.

“Each one of the deans who has been here since we became a school has had an agenda, which pushed us in ever-progressing ways,” said Finnegan.

McLaughlin said that the history shows a “gradual evolution and maturation of the School of Education.”

“We have grown in our program offerings, in our funded research and outreach efforts, and in the quality of our faculty and student body,” she said. “In some ways, it’s been a very logical progression, but in other ways there have been some very critical milestones that have been turning points for the School of Education and have determined our trajectory and the unique identity that we’ve achieved as a school of education at William & Mary, a liberal arts university.”

Finnegan’s work is on display at the School of Education on a newly unveiled history wall, which highlights the school’s journey. The history has also been compiled into a brochure.

“Across the board I’ve developed a much deeper appreciation for our legacy and the roots of this school of education, even for someone like myself who knows it very well and has lived a good part of it,” said McLaughlin.

Producing star educators

Perhaps no one can tell the history of the School of Education better than those who, like McLaughlin, have lived it.

Bob Grant, Eric Williams and Jo Lynne DeMary have all seen the school grow during the last few decades while their own careers took flight.

Grant, who earned a certificate of advanced graduate study from the school 1982 and his Ed.D. in 1983, went on to work for Norfolk Public Schools, serving in the guidance department, as an assistant principal and principal, and as a program director and SOL testing coordinator. Since his retirement in 2002, he has worked as the director of guidance and counseling and associate dean at Fork Union Military Academy. He has remained involved with William & Mary for many years, serving as an adjunct faculty member, helping to charter and then serving on the School of Education Development Board and serving on the board of the Charlottesville-Highlands chapter of the William & Mary Alumni Association.

Williams graduated with honors from William & Mary in 1988. He majored in history and minored in education, while also completing the licensure requirements for teaching secondary social studies. Williams, who met his wife at William & Mary as a junior, has served as an educator for two decades now, working in the Hampton Roads area, Massachusetts and in Florida as a dean, teacher, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent and interim superintendent.  He currently serves as the superintendent of the York County School Division.

DeMary received her undergraduate degree in elementary education from William & Mary in 1968 and her Ed.D. in educational planning and administration in 1982. During her career, she was a teacher, assistant principal, principal, director of special education and assistant superintendent of instruction. In 2000, she became the first woman to be appointed as state superintendent. Over the last five years, she worked as a professor of education at Virginia Commonwealth University and published a book before retiring this summer. DeMary, who met her husband while they were both freshmen at William & Mary, has remained closely tied to the school, returning often for activities. She has spoken numerous times at the College, and an annual award presented by the School of Education is named for her.


All three alumni acknowledged the impact that the School of Education has had on their successful careers.

“Personally, I feel my studies in the SOE formed my academic interests, the people in the SOE ‘welded’ me permanently to the College, and the degrees opened doors for me that would never have been opened were I not a William & Mary graduate,” Grant said.

DeMary said that her education at the school was more than just gaining content knowledge.

“The school also gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams,” she said. “I always felt that my W&M degrees would open doors for me, but I had to be a bold and courageous leader to walk through those doors. I never questioned my preparation and competency for the challenges I faced because I knew I learned from the best. My professors taught me to problem solve, to work collaboratively and to value the opportunities to make a difference.”

In addition to the school’s impact on their own careers, the three alumni said they have also seen its impact on the state of education in Virginia.

“The SOE has had a tremendous impact not only on the preparation of teachers and school-based leaders through the degree programs but also on the ongoing professional development of individuals,” said DeMary. “The leadership and impact of the SOE in Region Two is phenomenal. The school has been receptive to the needs of the local school divisions and responded with timely and relevant programs. William and Mary SOE students and faculty are well represented on state committees and commissions whose recommendations have resulted in significant state policy and regulations. The SOE has received numerous federal grants that provided cutting edge opportunities for research and innovative programs, informing educational reform at the national level.”

Williams sees the school’s professional development and outreach work in action in his district.

“All of the teachers who were new to our district last year returned this year, with the exception of one teacher whose spouse was reassigned out of state. This significant accomplishment would not have been possible without the training the School of Education has provided for our mentor teachers for new teachers,” Williams said.

He added, “The School of Education has had a major impact on our school- and division-level leadership. Many of our current administrators completed graduate work at the School of Education as part of the preparation for their leadership roles. We expect our principals and assistant principals to be instructional leaders, not just operational leaders, and the coursework at the School of Education helped prepare them for these roles.”

Williams called the school’s service-oriented perspective “impressive.”

“The School of Education serves as a valuable resource for consultation on many issues, including teacher effectiveness, instructional practice, leadership development, as well as teacher and principal evaluation,” he said.

Throughout the years, Grant said he has seen the School of Education’s programs “expand greatly.”

 “As a graduate assistant, I helped set up the New Horizons counseling program, which now serves countless families,” he said. “I have seen the impact of the SOE programs and research efforts with local school divisions become an integral part of their instructional programs. And of course have witnessed the building of the magnificent new facility.”

 Grant noted that the SOE’s programs “have long had national impact through projects, research, publications and presentations.”

 “Recently I’ve seen more international students and more interest in cooperative international efforts with the SOE,” said Grant.

 Best wishes

 As the school faces its next 50 years, the three alumni have nothing but warm wishes for their alma mater.

 “It is my hope that SOE will stress quality over quantity in both student selection and program offerings even in tough economic times,” said DeMary. “It is my desire that the SOE strive to have a greater influence on the national educational agenda through research, presentations, writings, organizational leadership and quality preparation. I encourage the leadership of the SOE to ask the difficult questions about educational issues and not be afraid of the answers even if they are contrary to popular belief.  We need bold and courageous leaders in education.”

Grant, who hopes to return to Williamsburg after his next retirement to volunteer with the School of Education, said that “words cannot express how important my associations with the SOE have been and continue to be.”

“My wishes for the SOE are that it continues to expand its far reaching activities to improve the educational experiences for all children,” he said.