Nation remembers a visionary
Former UND Dean Dr. Vito Perrone dies at 78; UND Foundation holds scholarship endowment established in his honor
By Jena Pierce and Alyssa Shirek
The University of North Dakota, along with the national education community, remembers a man who dedicated his life to education and education reform, both in North Dakota and nationally.
Dr. Vito Perrone, former Dean of the New School for Behavioral Studies in Education, first Dean of the Center for Teaching and Learning, and associate professor of history at UND, passed away on Aug. 24, 2011. He was 78.
Perrone came to UND in 1968 as Dean of the New School for Behavioral Studies in Education and associate professor in history. In two years, the New School granted 155 master's degrees, 126 bachelor's degrees and 12 doctoral degrees. In addition, the New School's Career Opportunities Program educated American Indian students from four reservations in North Dakota.
Perrone was named Dean of the Center for Teaching and Learning when the decision was made for the New School and College of Education to merge in 1972. The Center received a national reputation and was a model many colleges emulated. Perrone continued to serve as professor of history, education and peace studies.
In North Dakota, Perrone worked vigorously at forging relationships between the University's education programs, public schools and American Indian communities. His work in the New School and the Center for Teaching and Learning was recognized nationally as innovative and important. He had the strongest national voice historically of any individual from UND's teacher education programs. Perrone wrote extensively about such issues as educational equity, curriculum, progressivism in education, and testing/evaluation while at UND.
In 1972 Perrone founded and served as coordinator of the North Dakota Study Group on Evaluation, a group of national progressive leaders in education that continues to meet on an annual basis in Chicago. He also served as president of the National Consortium for Testing while at UND.
Perrone secured a grant from the Bush Foundation to support the opening of Teacher Centers in North Dakota in 1977. That year, Teacher Centers opened in Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Mayville. In 1980, additional centers were opened in Bismarck, Dickinson, Fargo, and Valley City. Excitement about the work of the Teacher Centers enabled the sponsors to secure legislative support, in the form of state appropriated funding, when the Bush Foundation funding ended in 1985. The following year, centers opened in Wahpeton and Williston. Together, these Centers linked to form the North Dakota Teacher Center Network. Several of these Centers continue to operate in North Dakota.
Perrone left UND in 1986 to become vice president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In 1988, Perrone became a faculty member at Harvard University Graduate School of Education where he served as director of teacher education and chair of teaching, curriculum and learning environments, where he continued to teach until he suffered a stroke in 2000. He spent the remainder of his time at his home in Cambridge, Mass., with his wife of 55 years, Carmel. Together they raised seven children and had 11 grandchildren.
Val Hoekstra, '82, who teaches at a charter middle school in New York City, was reminded of Dr. Perrone's influence a few weeks ago when the principal of her school started a staff meeting by handing out a paper with the following quote:
"What if our children and young people learn to read and write but don't like to and don't? What if they don't read the newspapers and magazines, or can't find beauty in a poem or love story? What if they don't go as adults to artistic events, don't listen to a broad range of music, aren't optimistic about the world and their place in it, don't notice the trees and the sunset, are indifferent to older citizens, don't participate in politics or community life?" -Vito Perrone
"I was thrilled that at a time when we needed a reminder of what we really want for our students that she would quote Dr. Perrone," said Hoekstra. "It reminded me of his philosophy of teaching and learning, which did include how to read and write, but did not stop there. His love of learning affected and infected students, who in turn wanted to do the same for their students."
Perrone was a compassionate and visionary leader who held passionate views about social justice and the role of education in preparing people for citizenship in a democratic society. He placed students at the center of the learning experience and teachers at the center of educational systems. He was a teacher at heart.
Pierce serves as Director of Development for the College of Education and Human Development and Shirek is Associate Director of Marketing for the UND Alumni Association & Foundation.