Tribute to an Outstanding New York African American Educator: Dr. Adelaide L. Sanford

Article excerpt

Once in awhile, we are blessed with an educator who is totally committed to the intellectual development of all students--an educator who is not afraid to take on controversial issues--one who will never shrink from conflict when he/she believes that a situation or problem needs to be resolved. Dr. Adelaide Sanford was such an educator.

Adelaide Sanford was born on November 27, 1925 in Brooklyn, New York. She studied at Brooklyn College and earned a bachelor's degree in 1947. While attending the college, Sanford befriended a gifted classmate, Shirley Chisholm, who later became the first black woman in American history to be elected to the United States Congress. Sanford continued her studies at Wellesley College, a prestigious New England school for women, and earned a master's degree in 1950.

That same year, Sanford started a teaching career in the New York public school system. Later, she was appointed principal at Crispus Attucks School (P.S. 21) in Brooklyn. While serving as principal, Sanford established a reputation of promoting excellence and under her leadership, P.S. 21 achieved the highest reading scores of any urban school in New York State.

Sanford was also known for encouraging students to set high expectations. According to attorney L. Londell McMillan, there were great women who inspired him to dream, namely his mother, the late Lois Reid McMillan, and Adelaide L. Sanford. He stated that "education is a life long process for me, thanks in large part to the guidance, encouragement, and love of Adelaide L. Sanford."

Shortly after she retired as a primary school principal, Sanford was elected to the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York in 1986. She was re-elected to another seven-year term in 1993 and to a five-year term in 2000. During this period, Sanford chaired the Committee on Low Performing Schools and produced a report entitled: "Perform or Perish." This document, which was published by the New York State Education Department, examined and outlined the impact of failing schools. It also laid the foundation for new educational initiatives. The "Perform or Perish" report challenged parents, children, teachers, administrators, school boards and elected government officials. It stated that the path to high performing schools is long and winding, but the path must begin by:

   (1) parents letting children know everyday that they are capable of
   success and ensure that their children set high expectations;
   (2) teachers expecting all students to achieve high standards;
   (3) administrators demonstrating educational leadership, reorganizing
   curriculum and instruction to build upon success;
   (4) school boards making the performance of students in Schools Under
   Registration Review (SURR) a priority; and
   (5) elected government officials making low-performing schools a
   priority for their educational summit and by passing the legislative
   and budgetary initiatives that are required to implement the
   recommendations in this report.

Despite of all that she had accomplished as a Regent, there were some people in Albany who found fault with her stylish braids, colorful African clothes, and progressive philosophy. …