Amid the Pomp, An Abiding Commitment to SOE’s Future
By Dave DeFusco
Declaring that there has never been a more exciting, and daunting, time in the nation’s history to be a school of education, Dean Chris Morphew said the Johns Hopkins School of Education during his tenure will dedicate itself to innovative, if unconventional, methods of creating and delivering knowledge.
“If a school of education wants to be relevant in this dynamic environment, it can’t be constrained by dogma or be hemmed in by traditional modes of discovery,” he said at an event on Sunday in the Glass Pavilion celebrating the school’s first decade. “Instead we must work with new types of partners to identify tools that we can use to produce translational research and ensure that our graduates are prepared as educational entrepreneurs, so they can identify evidence-based scholarly and practical solutions and be equipped to implement them.”
The pavilion, swaddled in deep blue pipe and draping, was an elegant backdrop for the event that catered to a varied and distinguished audience and served as the first public introduction of the new dean who arrived from the University of Iowa, family in tow, at the beginning of August. Dean Morphew began his remarks by thanking his wife and children for their sacrifices allowing him to take the reins of a top-ranked school that has in its various incarnations educated teachers across the state and nation since 1909.
“I’m optimistic that we’re well-positioned over the next several decades to contribute significantly to the improvement of our educational system,” said Dean Morphew. “My optimism is buoyed by our history of developing empirically derived tools to help schools and districts to improve low-performing schools and our demonstrated willingness, even eagerness, unlike many other schools and colleges of education, to partner with non-traditional organizations to launch promising new programs.”
President Ronald Daniels, who introduced Dean Morphew as a “gifted academic leader,” said the School of Education has been a “place of firsts” in offering a part-time degree program for adults, improving access to teacher education by offering courses in locations across Maryland, and being the first college for teachers in the state to offer classes to men and women on equal terms.
He also cited the university’s and school’s commitment to understanding the underlying factors that constitute a quality education, including the Coleman Report’s pioneering analysis of why students succeed or not, the Center for Social Organization of Schools’ application of evidence-based models to reinvigorate underperforming schools and a collaboration with the Science of Learning Institute whose work links a student’s physiology with his or her performance in the classroom.
“This is extraordinary,” said President Daniels. “Your work is exemplified by your efforts to build a research agenda that continues to address the pressing needs of children, whether here in Baltimore or in other urban centers or rural communities across the state and nation.”
The mood of the evening was light and convivial, owing in good measure to the jazz stylings of a three-piece ensemble. On tabletops, four-sided vases, adorned with the school’s anniversary logo, glowed a cool blue and erupted in a riot of snapdragons. The centerpieces were accompanied by glass cylinders filled with water and orchids—a tasteful garnish to fringed muslin tablecloths.
Anchoring the evening’s proceedings was Nancy Grasmick, the emcee and a cheerful and stalwart supporter of the School of Education. An alumna with a long history in education and with Johns Hopkins University, Grasmick joined the guests in warm applause for former Dean Stanley Gabor whose stately bearing is captured in an oil painting that hangs on the second floor of the Education Building.
Grasmick, a former Maryland state superintendent, was a mentor to Jason Botel, one of the evening’s special guests and acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education. Botel, a former Teach for America corps member, said he keeps the many remarkable and resilient students who are “suffering terribly in Baltimore” at the forefront of every conversation he has and every decision he makes in his capacity as acting assistant secretary.
“My experience in Baltimore shaped my conviction that leading children in poverty to achieve upward socio-economic mobility is incredibly challenging but completely possible,” he said, “which means we all have a moral and economic obligation to commit ourselves to providing a high-quality education to every child, especially children in communities that have historically been underserved.”
Stephen Morgan, the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Education, said the School of Education is an excellent interdisciplinary research environment where scholars wrestle with challenging, but practical, questions. He said it’s “not a stretch to forecast a better 10 years ahead.”
Leila Warraich, a candidate for a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling, lived for eight years in Texas, six years in Qatar and five years in Pakistan. As an undergraduate at Texas A&M University, she was heavily involved with the Muslim Students Association, and provided peer support on the university’s crisis line.
In March, she was selected to attend the first Muslim Women Leadership Summit at Harvard University and the Women Initiative for Self-Empowerment on the strength of a fund set up by a School of Education alumna.
“Leila is very passionate about mental health and especially in eliminating the stigma attached to Muslim and South Asian communities,” said Grasmick.
As a licensed clinical professional counselor, Warraich plans to serve minority, marginalized and low-income populations. “I chose the School of Education because I wanted excellence in my academics, which included the ability to learn among and from the most incredible minds in the field,” she said. “And I wanted my education to enhance my relationship with the world outside—to open doors for me and for others in my community.”
When she concluded her remarks, the lights dimmed and attention turned to two large screens that played the School of Education’s anniversary video, in which faculty, students and alumni discuss the impact and promise of many of the school’s exemplary research and innovative programs. Then, long-stemmed flutes, rouged with sparkling champagne, were raised at the behest of Dean Morphew to usher in the school’s next decade.