Each year, members of the Williams College graduating class nominate high school teachers who have strongly influenced their intellectual and personal growth. A committee of faculty, staff, and students selects the winners. The five U.S. teachers who will be awarded the 2002 George Olmsted, Jr. Class of 1924 National Prize for Excellence in Teaching are K. Gill Cook of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Md; David Corkran of the Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Ore.; Francis P. Funai of Springfield Central High School in Springfield, Mass.; Daniel J. Kasper of Clay High School in South Bend, Ind.; and Sharyn L. Stein of the Potomac School in McLean, Va.
The awards consist of $1,500 for each teacher and $750 for each of their schools. The Olmsted Prize, established in 1983, is funded by an endowment from the estates of George Olmsted, Jr. ’24 and his wife, Frances. Olmsted, a lifelong proponent of superior teaching, was the president and chairman of the board of the S. D. Warren (Paper) Company. The chair of this year’s selection committee is David P. Richardson, professor of chemistry.
K. Gill Cook
In her nomination of Cook, senior Ronit Y. Stahl, an English major from Fairfax, Va., wrote that Cook’s “greatest influence was her belief in the development of our individual ideas: she never assigned paper topics but instead told us to follow our own thoughts, no matter how crazy they may have seemed.” “Ultimately, though” Stahl wrote, “it is Dr. Cook’s persistent, vocal belief in each person who enters her classroom that pushes her students to excel.” Cook, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on Coleridge’s philosophy of education, suggested that “Coleridge introduced me to ideas that continue to inform my teaching: that perception is active and creative; that the mind is an organic unity that evolves through the perception of unity and connection in the world; that education educes the mind’s inherent powers – it does not impose information from without.”
In 1990, Cook started a Writing Center, staffed by student tutors, at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. In 1992, she wrote a successful National Endowment for the Humanities grant proposal to enable members of the faculty from across disciplines to study and write together under the guidance of area university professors. Cook has been chair of the English department at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School since 1989 and a member of its faculty since 1985. She received her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968 and her Ph.D. in English literature from the George Washington University in 1983.
Williams senior Katie A. Sharff, a biology major from Portland, Ore., wrote that “Not only did I learn to think and write clearly in Dave Corkran’s history classes, I also learned a lot about life. From this man, I learned what it means to believe in something and live according to that belief.” Sharff cited Corkran’s “avid environmentalism,” which he not only expounded but put into practice, as one example of his living according to his beliefs.
Emily H. Jones, the Catlin Gabel Upper School head, also commented on his environmentalism: “He has sent out generations of students who understand environmental issues at both the intellectual and the practical ground level. They see him bike to school and stomp around campus picking up trash, and they become a little more like him.” Sharff wrote that though she has forgotten much of the subject matter that Corkran conveyed to her in class, “what I do remember and will always remember is an amazing individual named Dave who taught me how to think and reason, who taught me to practice what I believe, who taught me how to live by my ideals and who showed me he cared.”
Corkran wrote that the Catlin Gabel School fosters “student-teacher collaborations built on deep mutual respect.” In his own teaching, Corkran asks his “students to do what they cannot do, on the theory that one’s reach must exceed one’s grasp if one is to fully realize her or his potential.” Corkran has been a teacher of American and African-American history and environmental studies, as well as an assistant track coach and co-leader of environmental restoration trips, at the Catlin Gabel School since 1968. He received his B. A. from Middlebury College in 1957 and his Ph.D. in American history from the University of California at Berkeley in 1970.
Francis P. Funai
Reflecting on her high school education, senior Johanna D. Heinrichs, an art history major from Springfield, Mass., wrote that, “I admired many of my teachers at Central High School for their commitment to their work in a school with little money, and crowded classes of often difficult students, and Mr. Funai stands out among my favorites.” Heinrichs wrote that Funai’s “lucid explanations taught me not just the mechanics, but the beauty and logic of math and physics.” Celeste Budd-Jackson, Springfield Central High School principal, echoed Heinrichs’ sentiments when she noted that when Funai works with students, “he works very carefully and closely, he makes learning math fun. He’s not a ’chalk and talk’ kind of guy.”
Heinrichs wrote that Funai influenced her choice of major at Williams: “He convinced me that whatever I did in college, I had to find something that I was passionate about. His love for his subject matter and his commitment to teaching inspired me to pursue my own passion for art history.” Funai has taught mathematics and science in the Springfield public schools since 1972. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Funai serves as MCAS coordinator for the high school. He has chaired several committees on accreditation and curriculum within the Springfield public school system. Funai received a B.S. in general science from Westfield State College in 1972, an M.S. in science teaching from American International College in 1977, and a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Western New England College in 1991.
Daniel J. Kasper
Kristen M. Moo, a senior English major from South Bend, Ind., remembered that Dan Kasper would tell his classes, “Smart people read, but scholars carry dictionaries and look up every new word they find when reading.” Moo wrote that she and her classmates all “wanted to be scholars, to fall on the right end of [Kasper’s] distinction between good and great.” Moo wrote about Kasper’s “Who Cares?” handouts, for which students had to search through local libraries, including the University of Notre Dame’s library, for answers to trivia questions about literature and American history. Kasper, Moo recalled, was as concerned with the research process as with the correct answer. Moo described Kasper’s annual competition among his classes to see which one could collect the most cans per capita for the school’s canned food drive. At the outset, he would tell his students that the class that collected the most cans per capita would get a pizza party and the others would be given exams, but he always ended up giving pizza parties to all of the classes.
Kasper suggests that he sympathizes with the narrator of Robert Frost’s poem “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” who wrote that, “My purpose in life is to unite/my avocation with my vocation.” Kasper reflects that, “I read this poem every day and still get paid for doing it.” He has been teaching English and history at Clay High School for 32 years. Outside of the classroom, he coaches baseball and football. He also operates a concession stand before and after school and at school sporting events, which finances many of the school’s extracurricular activities.
Sharyn L. Stein
Williams senior Jessica B. Ohly, an English major from McLean, Va., wrote that, “If one decides, as I have, that to be a teacher means to impart a love of learning while at the same time te
aching your students self confidence and how to have joy in their lives, then, unfortunately, very few teachers live up to their full potential. Ms. Stein, on the other hand, does.” Stein recalled that, “A few years ago a student gave me a math primer from 1878. The main theme of the book was farming and farm animalsSrather than providing information, the author had the students visit farms to count animals or measure the land in order to get accurate numbers to do a problem. My themes have changed from barrows, gilts, and sections, but not the principle.” She added that, “Math is best learned by participating, not spectating.”
Brendan Sheerin, dean of students at the Potomac School, wrote that, “What I admire most about Sharyn is that she is a stout defender of the average student. In a culture of successSSharyn looks out for the ’little guy.’” Sheerin wrote, “In teaching seventh and eighth graders, a teacher is asked to wear many hats. Sharyn does so with accomplishment, grace, good humor, and an excitement for her role that is undiminished after 14 years in the trenches.”
Stein has been teaching seventh and eighth grade mathematics at the Potomac School since 1992. In addition to her teaching, she has coached girls’ soccer and softball at the varsity, junior varsity, and intermediate school levels. Stein received her B.A. from Amherst College in 1986 and her M.A.T. in mathematics from Smith College in 1992.