TC's Board the Next Generation
Published in TC Today - Volume 38, No. 1
Sub-heading: Teachers College is known for having a savvy, committed Board of Trustees. That tradition continues with four new members.
INVESTING IN EDUCATION - LISE EVANS
Lise Evans (M.A. ’06) never taught after earning her TC degree in English education, but she credits the College for launching her career as an education philanthropist.
“I enrolled at TC when I was in my thirties, because I felt I would have taught had I not become a mother when I was so young,” says Evans, who had two of her children while she was in college.
Indeed, though she worked as a fashion model in her teens and stayed in the industry while raising her children, Evans always cared deeply about education and social justice. Born and raised in Norway, she believes strongly in that country’s commitment to universal education. In her early thirties, she made several trips to Africa to educate people there about HIV/AIDS prevention. As a journalism student at New York University, she was dismayed by public schools with metal detectors and shocked at the inequities of the American school system.
“Every child is owed the opportunity to learn,” she says. “It’s so destructive not to invest in people’s futures.”
While at TC Evans did her student-teaching at The Children’s Storefront, an independent, tuition-free school in Harlem. She subsequently served on the school’s board for nine years and then joined the board of Turnaround for Children, a nonprofit that helps schools confront the challenges of poverty. The organization recently honored Evans and her husband, Michael, who is former Vice Chair of Goldman Sachs, for their work. Today she is regarded as one of the city’s leading supporters of public education.
Why join TC’s board now?
“Having been on the boards of different schools, my goal now is to increase my impact by learning more about how teachers are prepared and what they face working in the inner city,” she says.
She’s particularly excited about the Teachers College Community School and TC’s REACH (Raising Educational Achievement Coalition of Harlem) project, through which TC and Columbia provide comprehensive academic, social and health services to six public schools in Harlem.
“I think the idea of bringing TC faculty and students into these schools to lend their expertise and apply cutting-edge ideas is absolutely brilliant,” she says. “I hope other universities follow suit.”
THE INNOVATION TUTOR - GEORGE CIGALE
In 1980, at age 11, George Cigale took apart the Commodore VIC-20 computer he bought for $300 —“my life savings.”
“Experimenting with technology helped me develop a sense of how things worked and how the pieces of things fit together,” says Cigale, founder and CEO of Tutor.com.
Cigale, who joined TC’s board last June, has made the most of that talent. Arriving in the United States at age seven from the Soviet Union by way of Israel, he didn’t speak a word of English. He learned about tutoring by helping his parents navigate a new culture and language and, as a teenager, by working at The Princeton Review, which was then developing its test-prep business. “I learned that you can provide education in different ways, including by helping paying customers to improve their test scores,” he says.
Cigale paid for college by working as an SAT and LSAT tutor. When the Internet subsequently took off, he recognized the opportunity to “connect people who needed instructional help with people who could provide it to them.” Tutor.com has since delivered more than 10 million tutoring sessions online, using student feedback to constantly improve its methods.
Now Cigale, who previously served on a technology advisory committee at TC, will help the College develop some of its own innovative ideas and inventions.
“This country needs creative minds to improve education at every level,” he says. “TC is filled with thoughtful, passionate people at the top of their fields. I can add a perspective of what pieces you need to put together — a new course, a website, a business model — to make something sustainable as a new business line or licensed product.”
Ultimately, Cigale believes success in education still comes down to people.
“It’s a false dichotomy to talk about online versus in-person learning,” he says. “The best approach is a thoughtful blend of both, well executed by dedicated people.”
CREATING MENTORING SPACES - CAMILLA SMITH
As editor of her high school newspaper, Camilla Smith (M.A. ’72) was excused from taking English — except by her English teacher.
“She said, ‘You’ll write an essay for me each week,’” recalls Smith, who joined TC’s board in December.
Smith, who has spent her life in teaching and editing (including stints at Putnam and Teachers College Press), treasures that response as an example of what’s currently lacking in education: mentorship.
“As digital natives, kids could go deep with their learning,” she says. “But museums, libraries and schools need to serve as mentors.”
To that end, Smith and her husband, George, have given $8 million to turn the fourth floor of TC’s Gottesman Libraries into a learning theater for high-end workshops, interactive research and other collaborations. As a board member of NPR, the University of California-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and the Leakey Foundation, which researches human evolution, Camilla Smith nudges these and other institutions toward a similar sense of mission. She also belongs to the Friends of San Francisco Public Library, which has refurbished the library’s branches and significantly boosted use.
“It’s not the books,” she says of that achievement. “It’s the kids using the Internet. That’s the first step.”
AN INDEPENDENT SCHOOL THINKER - NANCY SIMPKINS
No one was surprised when Nancy Simpkins joined TC’s board in December. Simpkins’s father is Trustee Emeritus John Klingenstein (see page 12), founder of TC’s Klingenstein Center for Independent School Leadership. She has been a trustee at her children’s schools and at Miss Porter’s School, which she attended. “Dad wanted to make sure our schools did their best for their students,” Simpkins says.
But where her father approaches education as a supportive outsider, Simpkins prefers a more direct role. For example, she’s a founding trustee of The Wild Center, a natural history museum near her vacation home in the Adirondacks.
“One of the leading local citizens canoed over and asked me if I’d be interested,” she says. “It’s been great to be in on the ground floor of shaping an institution.”
The year after Simpkins graduated from college, she lived in a town in Oregon. One day she crossed the street to the high school and volunteered her services.
“When they got over their shock, they made me an assistant teacher for art, remedial reading and forestry,” she recalls. “The school had 200 acres, and I spent a lot of mornings with boys with chainsaws.”
Simpkins ultimately decided both that she lacked what it takes to be a great teacher — “I didn’t have a clue about management and discipline” — and that she wanted to do something about the nation’s two-tiered education system.
“None of those kids ever cracked a book outside of school or saw their parents reading,” she says. “I love the Klingenstein Center, and I’ve never met a graduate who didn’t feel it had improved her professional or educational life. But the vast majority of U.S. kids go to public schools, which are in an appalling state. If you want to fix them, Teachers College is the place to be.”