Dean and Linnea Smith Among Six Honored by School of Education

Dean and Linnea Smith ’76 (MD) were among six award winners honored recently by UNC for outstanding contributions to improving education, in North Carolina and across the nation.

The legendary Carolina men’s basketball coach and his wife, a psychiatrist and advocate for exploited women and children, shared this year’s Peabody Award, the highest honor bestowed by the UNC School of Education.

The Smiths, who have been longtime advocates for education, literacy, civil rights and women’s rights, were honored for extraordinary dedication to children and youth.

The school also named the following as recipients of its 2005 Distinguished Alumni Awards:

  • James Gordon Merrill ’73, superintendent of Alamance-Burlington Schools, Distinguished Leadership Award;
  • H. Dickson Corbett III ’73 of Malvern, Pa., an independent educational researcher, Alumni Achievement Award;
  • Leslie Baldwin ’98, a foreign language program specialist with the Winston-Salem-Forsyth County Schools, Excellence in Teaching Award; and
  • Alvera Junice Lesane ’01 (MSA), chief quality assurance officer for the Iredell-Statesville Schools, Outstanding Young Alumna Award.

Alumni, faculty and friends of the school nominated award candidates. A nine-member alumni and faculty committee, chaired by Ben Matthews of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, chose the winners. Awards citations stated the following about the recipients:

During Dean Smith’s 37 years as Carolina’s basketball coach, more than 95 percent of his lettermen earned their degrees; nearly half pursued advanced study beyond bachelor’s degrees. Smith insisted on creating strong student-athletes and continues to promote that cause today.

Linnea Smith is dedicated to educating parents, teachers, children and the community at large on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and the impact of pornography on society.

Both the Smiths’ parents were teachers, and both emphasized the value their families placed on education.

Merrill, now in his fifth year as Alamance-Burlington superintendent, was named North Carolina’s 2005 Superintendent of the Year by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. Teachers and administrators say he has fostered a climate that actively supports their efforts.

Merrill initiated the “Operation Safe Schools” sting in his district that brought the arrest of 49 students on drug charges, including some high-profile student athletes. Merrill called his UNC experience a defining point in his life. Arriving at UNC as a freshman, he had no idea where he was headed.

“Four years later, I left ready to right the world and make a mark,” Merrill said. “Carolina and the School of Education set me on this path, and I have forever been grateful for the foundation afforded me in my years here.”

Corbett earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the school and is an adjunct professor, advising doctoral candidates. He is recognized as a leading educational researcher in the United States.

He studies school reform strategies in an effort to shape more successful reforms in the future, particularly in schools that serve low-income students. Corbett credits the school for inspiring him to devote his career to educational research.

“It all came from Peabody Hall,” he said. “The atmosphere in Peabody Hall when I was there was that you honor teachers and you honor students. No matter how critical you might be of schooling, you honor those who work in schools.”

Baldwin designed a Spanish language immersion program for a Winston-Salem elementary school in and arranged for multicultural programs at the school. In her efforts to improve foreign language education, she convinced the Winston-Salem-Forsyth County school board to continue its early language program when the program was in danger of being cut. Baldwin is first vice president of the Foreign Language Association of North Carolina.

“Carolina taught me so much,” Baldwin said. “As a result of my studies at the School of Education, I was very well prepared to begin my teaching career and move on to where I am now.”

Lesane, who is pursuing a doctoral degree at the school, is responsible for improving the quality of instruction in the Iredell-Statesville schools and insuring that teachers receive training to deliver the best instruction possible.

Her doctoral adviser, Kathleen Brown, associate professor of educational leadership, described Lesane’s career trajectory as “atypical and unheard of.”

In six years, Lesane has advanced from high school social studies teacher to assistant principal of Statesville High School to principal of Troutman Middle School to central office staff in the school district. She said her passion for developing great teachers stems from her time at UNC.

“More than anything else,” she said, “you [the school] have challenged me as I try to do what I can to see that children get the education they deserve.”

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