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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Convocation and Commencement

Convocation and commencement are the most celebrated events of the school year. Aside from graduates receiving their hard-earned degrees, who else was recognized at this year's master's convocation?

The votes are in, and the honorees for the Teachers College Medal for Distinguished Service for 1999 are three prominent players in education: New York City Board of Education Chancellor Rudolph F. Crew, Teachers College Professor Emeritus and the current Ombudsman, Leonard Blackman, and President of Smith College, Ruth J. Simmons.

Chancellor Crew is probably a household name for most of the graduates. Crew is known for implementing urban education reforms. He specifically supports performance-driven public education, which emphasizes literacy, school-based responsibility and parental involvement. The key, according to Crew, is its three-step literacy program, which focuses on getting children to read proficiently by the end of third grade, helping to bring older children who need help up to grade level, and raising achievement expectations for all children.

Through technological initiatives, such as TC's work with Community School District 6 in northern Manhattan, Crew is looking to ensure higher standards in all subject areas. He is also promoting arts education in public schools through programs like TC's joint project with the City Board of Education, the Heritage School. His most recent initiative is a three-part charter school program that will establish schools with a specific focus in areas such as music, business, automotive technology and animation arts.

Professor Emeritus Blackman is being honored as one of TC's own. When Blackman came to TC in 1962, his background in working with individuals with mental retardation and understanding how they learn was well established.

In addition to his professorship, Blackman chaired several committees and for a time was Acting Dean. He is still Ombudsman for the College. Most notable about his tenure at the College is Blackman's ability to attract considerable external grant support for his research. He spearheaded the nation's first comprehensive Research and Demonstration Center for the Handicapped, which had as its goal to "release the child from the confines of his handicap through improved educational techniques." Grant money that Blackman received for the Center provided $2 million toward the construction of Thorndike Hall to house the R & D Center and others like it.

After 29 years of service in the Department of Special Education, Blackman retired in 1991. Yet he is still active in the College, as Chair of the Emeriti Committee and in his role as Ombudsman.

The third medalist is Ruth J. Simmons, President of Smith College, who is the first black person to head a prestigious women's college and one of a small number of black female presidents.

As Vice-Provost at Princeton, Simmons was asked by the university president to review the state of race relations on the campus, and her report spawned several initiatives that received widespread attention.

At Smith, she takes an active interest in the minority students currently enrolled at the College, encouraging them to get involved in the student community. Simmons, who says her love for school led her to the academic life, credits her high school English teacher for encouraging her desire to learn more about the world. After graduating from Dillard University in New Orleans, she studied in France on a Fulbright scholarship before attending Harvard University for her master's degree and a doctorate in romance languages.

The medalists received their awards at the master's convocation on May 18 at 4:00 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Doctoral students were hooded in a ceremony at Riverside Church at 2:30 p.m. on May 19.

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