Many critical milestones can occur in half a century, as the College of William and Mary’s School of Education is discovering. Examining the school’s 50-year history provides an understanding of its trials and accomplishments.
To this end, associate professor of education Dot Finnegan and two higher-education doctoral students, Neal Holly and Kimberly Brush, began to compile a history of the School of Education in 2010.
“We have been working on a history for a year and a half now, and we are still in the process of writing more,” Finnegan said. “The point is we are and have been an integral part of the college since 1888, which not many people realize.”
A newly unveiled wall in the school depicts the compiled history and is supplemented by a brochure, which highlights the education program’s development.
“What began as a simple timeline project evolved into a more sophisticated look at the school’s origins and the College’s involvement in preparing educators for the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1888,” Holly said. “As a person who enjoys history, I’m thrilled to be able to share our findings with the entire College community.”
Since the 1888 establishment of a “normal school,” a two- or three-year program dedicated to training teachers, the education program has been a vital component of the College for more than 100 years.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity to work on the history project. I have learned so much about not only the School of Education, but also about the history of the College of William and Mary,” Kimberly Brush said.
“With the help of several people in the archives, my colleagues and I were able to spend a great deal of time with primary documents dating as far back as the 1880s. As someone who loves history, this was a phenomenal experience.”
Established as a means to improve the financial situation of the school, which was lacking in students and funds, the normal school was intended to be a state-supported organization for men.
“When it first opened there were more normal school students than liberal arts students. Education literally saved the College,” Finnegan said.
The education program continued to grow throughout the 1920s and 1930s and officially became a school of education under Dean Kremer J. Hoke.
Despite such progress, just 10 years later the school was relegated back to a department, after nearly being disposed of altogether. Over the next three decades, education remained a department, continuing to work alongside other programs and schools in the region.
Finally, after much petitioning by faculty members, the Board of Visitors authorized the program to begin operating as a school on Sept. 1, 1961. Thus began what is known as the modern school, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
The School of Education dedicated its new building on Monticello Avenue in September 2010.
Looking to the future, the School of Education hopes to continue the progress it has made, particularly with the abundance of faculty research compiled since the 1980s.
“It’s exciting to be a student in the School of Education right now,” Holly said. “The move to the new facility and the events surrounding the anniversary have brought everyone together in a special way. You become aware that you are a part of a legacy of public education that extends beyond a century.”
Brush was equally excited about the milestone for the school.
“I am delighted for the School of Education on its 50th anniversary. This is such a significant milestone. With both the anniversary and the new building, this is an exciting time to be in the School of Education,” Brush said.