On the day of his inauguration as the first president of the University of Virginia. Edwin Alderman received a pledge from John D. Rockefeller Sr. that would serve as the foundation for the new Education school. Business leader, visionary, and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Sr., attached only one condition to the $100,000 gift he made to establish a school of education at U.Va. He stipulated only that the school be named for J. L. M. Curry, an educational reformer who, unlike many Southerners of his day, was an advocate for public education. The first faculty members to be appointed were Henry Heck and Bruce Payne.
The status of the Curry School improved when the Carnegie Foundation recognized the University as an “approved college”. In a letter to the University Board of Visitors announcing the decision, the foundation acknowledged not only the University’s rich history, eminent faculty, and rising admission standards, but also made reference to “the work which has been done … in the development of the secondary schools of the state.”
Bureau of Appointments Established as is the Extension Bureau
Thanks to Alderman’s persistent efforts on its behalf, the Curry School gained its own home when the Peabody Educational Fund appropriated funds for the construction of a building to house its expanding programs. At its 1914 opening, Peabody Hall was described as “of sufficient dignity for a department of equal rank and dignity with any other in the University.”
John Levi Manahan joined the faculty in 1916—and was appointed dean of the newly organized Department of Education in 1920. Manahan had a background in school administration and, in addition to developing existing programs in this area, was interested in developing a primary school (or a “school of childhood,” as he called it) in Peabody Hall. This school would provide opportunities for working educators to observe superior instruction by expert teachers and to establish a framework for “careful study … of the capacities and needs of each pupil as an individual and appropriate methods and content employed to meet these needs.” Although he was never able to create a laboratory school in Peabody Hall, Manahan launches a program of experimental education and teacher training that enabled students to perform “directed observation and teaching” in local schools.
World War II and its aftermath affected the University in many ways. In 1947 when Colgate Darden was made president of the University after serving as Governor of the state of Virginia, he brought a new focus on the state’s commitment to education. Lindley Stiles was appointed dean of the Curry School in 1949 and one of his first tasks was to supervise Curry’s transition from a department to a school at a time when other University professional schools were changing their status. He also helped to shift the School’s focus from methods toward a greater emphasis on the subjects that educators would teach. During his tenure the School began to grant master of education, education specialist, and doctor of education degrees.
Stiles was an advocate for minority Americans. He encouraged Walter N. Ridley to enroll in the Curry School and awarded him the University’s first degree to an African American student, the nation’s first to receive a doctor of education degree from a traditionally white Southern university. Stiles played a central role in the Virginia desegregation case that was eventually represented in the Supreme Court under the umbrella of Brown v. Board of Education. He publicly referred to segregation as a “cancer that is eating away at the life blood of democracy.” Stiles accepted a position at the University of Wisconsin in 1955 and Ralph Cherry became Dean in 1956. School growth led to controversy over program areas. Cherry oversaw first NCATE accreditation and continued to support the varied programs.
Cherry continued as dean until 1968 and Ted Cyphert was appointed to the deanship in 1968. The 1960s also saw the mission of the Curry School expanding. Dean Frederick R. “Ted” Cyphert further increased the size of the Curry faculty to nearly 120 members and raised to 20 its number of specialized programs, which included reading, gifted, and special education. He encouraged the faculty to get involved in research activities and national education organizations. The Consultative Resource Center for School De Segregation was established in 1967 providing faculty resources to work with schools in Virginia and several surrounding states as they implemented curricular reform in newly integrated schools.
The Curry School moves to Ruffner Hall in winter of 1972-73.
Cyphert.“I tend to believe that education is a field of inquiry, rather than a way of knowing,” Cyphert said during a reunion of Curry’s five living deans in 2001. “Knowing what exists isn’t good enough for me.”
Cyphert’s successor was Richard Brandt who served as Curry’s dean from 1974-1984. Brandt helped Curry navigate the type of internal and external reviews that were common as education schools nationwide sought to ensure the relevance of their programs. He is perhaps best known for creating the Curry School Foundation, the School’s fundraising arm, which today finances much of Curry’s growth.
James Cooper took the reins of the Curry School in 1984, serving as dean for ten years. This was an era of increased focus on teacher preparation nationally, sparked in part by the release of “A Nation at Risk,” a report prepared by the National Commission on Excellence in Education that was highly critical of the American education system.
Cooper, who had a background in teacher education, convened a task force of Curry faculty members to review the School’s program and to revamp it as necessary. After two years of work, the School introduced a five-year teacher education program, the first of its kind in the nation.
When economist David Breneman became Curry’s seventh dean in 1995, he joined a school that he described as physically and financially sound, but that “exists in a world of diminishing financial resources.” He promptly worked with the faculty to develop a strategic plan for the School because, as he put it, “the opportunity cost of mistakes is high.”
To that end, Curry launched three promising programmatic initiatives: Teachers for a New Era, the Darden/ Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education, and the Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning.
Breneman continued as dean through 2007 when Robert Pianta, Director of the Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL), was appointed Curry’s dean. Under Breneman’s leadership he secured a gift of $25 million for a new education building from Daniel Meyers, a Boston-based businessman, who asked that the building be named in honor of Anthony Bavaro, a professional football player who dedicated his life to teaching for forty years in the Boston city schools.
As Breneman said almost ten years ago, “It seems Ruffner Hall has been too small for us since the day we moved in,” Breneman says. “Our faculty and staff are scattered all over Charlottesville. The new building will enable us to bring all of Curry together in one place.” With the addition and renovation of Curry’s facilities, Curry faculty and students will have the kind of work space that allows them to reach across disciplines to conduct new and innovative research. As the Curry School enters its second century, it remains true to its original mission as articulated by Edwin Alderman and carried forth by a succession of prescient leaders. Thanks to the service of these dedicated scholars, Curry is well positioned to create effective environments to foster learning and development at every age level, in every subject and in many domains of performance.