Thanking Sam Halperin

In my 40 years as an education reporter, I have been helped by more people than I can name here, but I owe my career to one man, Samuel Halperin. Sam knows this, because I’ve told him on more than one occasion, but now I’d like to express my admiration for this remarkable man, not so much for helping me but for all that he has contributed to building a fairer and more just society.

As his friends know, Sam is very ill. He’s resting comfortably at home with his family, looking back on a life well lived. He and Marlene raised two terrific children, Deena and Elan, and are the proud grandparents of five grandchildren. In this space last week I wrote about ‘Seizing the Day,’ and I can think of no one who exemplifies what I wrote about more than Sam.

Some of you know Sam[1] as the lead author of “The Forgotten Half,” a ground-breaking examination of widely accepted educational policies that were trying to put all young people into the college-bound track–and doing lots of damage to about half of our kids.

Others may know Sam from his days as President of the Institute for Educational Leadership or founder of the American Youth Policy Forum.

Older hands know that Sam was Deputy Assistant Secretary at the old HEW, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and Assistant U.S. Commissioner for Legislation at the old U.S. Office of Education.[2]

The thread that runs through his resumé is service to others and fairness to all. Sam is both a ‘small d’ democrat and a ‘Capital D’ Democrat. For me, the best proof is in a program he created and ran at IEL called “Education Staff Seminars’ or ESS. Recognizing that, in a hectic Congress, staffers were most often the key to passing effective legislation, Sam dreamed up a way to educate them about education. He did this by taking them out of Washington, their comfort zone, and immersing them in some new and foreign world. So, for example, Sam might take 20-30 House and Senate staffers, an equal mix of Republicans and Democrats, to a Native American reservation for three days. When they got on the plane, all they had in common was that they worked for a member of Congress who served on an Education Committee or Subcommittee. After three days of nearly 24-7 immersion, including meals and bus rides, however, these men and women understood much more about education and about each other. And while Sam most likely held strong views about various programs he would take ESS to visit, that was never his agenda. He wanted full and free discussion, and let the best ideas win.[3]

What Sam did for me is a variation on a theme, because he has mentored hundreds, probably thousands, of young men and women over his long career. I met Sam in the early 70’s when I was writing my doctoral dissertation; my subject was the legislation that created the Teacher Corps and a few other federal programs, and I interviewed Sam at least twice. While other interviewees clearly spun the story to favor their world view, I remember Sam’s telling me that I had to speak with this man or that woman to get the full story.

By 1974 I was job-hunting, and IEL hired me for a job that I think Sam may have created for me. The position, something like ‘Communications Coordinator,’ came with the vaguest of job descriptions. I clearly recall Sam’s urging me to figure out what I felt I HAD to do. “When you know, tell me,” he said, “and I will do my best to help you be successful.”

IEL was basically a ‘think tank,’ an environment that I am neither temperamentally nor intellectually suited for, and before long I told Sam that I was feeling restless.

“So do something,” he said. “Start a forum, like the Ford Hall Forum in Boston,” he advised. He meant rent an auditorium, recruit a famous speaker, publicize the event and fill the hall. He gave me a budget, $10,000.

While that sounded like an OK idea, I had heard about a new organization, National Public Radio, so new that the people who worked there found themselves explaining, ‘Well, it’s like public television, but there aren’t any pictures.”

When I knocked on the door at NPR and said that I had $10,000 to spend, I was ushered right in and invited to make a program. At that time about all NPR had in the way of programs was ‘All Things Considered” in the evening, a weekly folk music program called “Voices in the Wind” and a catch-all series called “Options,” where it stuck everything else.

With NPR’s blessing, I invited a couple of experts to come to the studio to talk about education. For some bizarre reason, I chose ‘school finance’ as my subject. The two guests droned on and on, but NPR was thrilled. As I remember, the producer turned it into TWO 1-hour programs, “School Finance: Where the Money Comes From” and “Whence it Goes.” (If I owned the rights to those programs now, I would market them as a safe alternative to Ambien.)

After we made a few more programs for the “Options” series, NPR wanted to turn it into a semi-separate series, “Options in Education,” but to do that, I would need money, more than $10,000 for sure.

I went to Sam and told him that I had finally found what I HAD to do. I said I thought a weekly radio series about education could have a positive impact. As he had promised he would, he went to bat for me. He told IEL’s major supporter, the Ford Foundation, that he wanted to green light his newest staffer’s idea, a weekly program about education on National Public Radio. He couldn’t promise thousands and thousands of listeners because NPR had no audience figures, but he persuaded Harold “Doc” Howe and Ed Meade that it was a worthwhile venture.

I don’t remember the budget number, but I vividly remember Sam’s advice–more of a demand. He made me promise to come to him when I screwed up. “You will mess up,” he said, “because everybody messes up. Whatever you do, don’t cover it up. Come to me, and I will help you dig out of the hole.” (Remember, this was the year after Watergate.)

That’s the best professional advice I’ve ever gotten, from the best boss I have ever had. When I screwed up, he helped me clean up the mess, just as he had promised he would.

I ended up staying at NPR for 8 years and more than 400 programs, and “Options in Education” became one of NPR’s most-listened to programs. I learned pretty quickly to get out of the studio and then out of Washington, DC, and into schools, colleges, pre-schools, juvenile detention facilities and anywhere else where young people were learning.

In 1982 I got the itch to try television, and Sam supported my decision to give up “Options in Education” and devote my time to fundraising for a PBS series that we called “Your Children, Our Children.” In 1985 I joined what was then known as The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, where I have been working ever since.

When I established my own non-profit company, Learning Matters, in 1995, Sam was the first person I asked to serve on the Board of Directors. That made him my boss again, and more than once he and other Directors reined in some of my more questionable enthusiasms and kept me from taking the young organization off the track, or off the rails completely.

Sam mentored me–and so many others like me–because he believes in people. However, he was never a soft touch. He always set high standards for himself and everyone around him, and, when he caught you not doing your best, he told you so, directly and forcefully. Even his anger, however, was founded in love and generosity. He believed then and believes now that the only moral course of action for every human being is to use whatever gifts he or she may have been given in the service of others.

Thank you, Sam. I love you.

If you would like to let Sam know your feelings, write to him at his daughter’s email address, deenabarlev@gmail.com, or post your thoughts here. Thank you.

—-

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. 1. He’s actually Dr. Halperin. Sam earned his bachelor’s degree, his master’s degree, and his doctorate in political science from Washington University in St. Louis.
  2. 2. Sam’s contributions have not gone unnoticed. He received HEW’s Superior Service Award, HEW’s Distinguished Service Award (twice) the National Association of State Boards of Education Distinguished Service Award (also twice), the Distinguished Service Award of the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award from Jobs for the Future, the President’s Medal of the George Washington University, the Harry S. Truman Award of the American Association of Community Colleges, and the Lewis Hine Award for Service to Children and Youth from the National Child Labor Committee.
  3. 3.Today’s polarized Washington needs programs like ESS more than ever. Unfortunately, they don’t exist.

25 Responses to “Thanking Sam Halperin”

  1. Scott Widmeyer 16. Apr, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    John–thanks for your commentary on Sam. Sam played a huge role in helping me build out my career in the 1980s when I was just getting started in ed reform communications.
    And, it will always be one of my treasures that I had the opportunity to learn from him. And, to work with him on the “The Forgotten Half.”
    Sam also mentored me on many occasions and I will always place a great value in his guidance.

    Scott

    • Don Mathis 19. Apr, 2014 at 9:26 am #

      John, et. al.,

      Thank you all for sharing your love and respect for one of the finest, most thoughtful individuals I’ve ever had the privilege of working with, and much more importantly, learning from. Sam mentored me on many occasions over the past 30 years, and I will continue to cherish every moment that I had with him and with him and Marlene. One of my joys with Sam was making him laugh–he was the amazing mix of icon and worker bee and one gift I was able to return to him for his service was to provide him with a chuckle or two. Sam made my life better, my work more rigorous, my advocacy more tenacious, and my appreciation of what’s truly important with life and family more reinforced. I join with Sam’s family and everyone whose lives he touched in thanking him and celebrating his life.

      Don Mathis

  2. Joe Scantlebury 16. Apr, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    Sam —

    Thank you for your resolve and commitment to the potential of all our nation’s children. You helped many voice what we know to be true – - There are no throw away youth only opportunities for adults to care for, educate and nurture our collective future.

    Joe

  3. Jane Quinn 16. Apr, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    John: Thanks for honoring Sam in this way while he is still alive and can appreciate the well-earned recognition. “The Forgotten Half” was a game-changer for many of us, as were our personal and professional relationships with this strong, humble leader. One story about Sam that is forever embedded in my memory is his wry comment at a professional meeting where the cross-currents of discussion were annoying all of the participants: “I can dance forward, and I can dance backward, but I can’t do both at the same time.” As usual, Sam called us to our duty…

    Fondly, Jane Quinn

  4. Noel Epstein 16. Apr, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    John:

    It was awfully thoughtful of you to post the Sam Halperin comments. Sam did, indeed, make a significant difference in a lot of people’s lives, including mine, and in the lives of children and youth across the nation who will never know who he was or what he did. It was painful to hear of his illness from you recently, and I have been at a loss about what to say to him, Marlene and Deena. Now you have, as usual, said what needed saying. Thank you.

    Best,
    Noel

  5. Lynda Tredway 16. Apr, 2014 at 2:04 pm #

    Thank you, John, for starting this series of tributes to our Sam — a role model of grit, courage, care and support.

    Yesterday I read David Brook’s column in NYT on “A Long Obedience” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/15/opinion/a-long-obedience.html?ref=columnists&_r=0

    and thought of Sam at this Passover time because he embodied to me a person of the sweet compulsion that the term anuvit seems to mean in the piece; his ability to see through the present to what was possible framed his work and his life. His passion and compassion were a mix of forcefulness for the moral good and leadership toward that end in a calm, careful way.

    Sam saw in others what they could not see in themselves – yet. I have asked him since why in the world he hired me for the Research Associate at The Forgotten Half when I had little relevant experience beyond teaching in DC schools. I guess he recognized a go-getter, and I responded to his standard of excellence by trying to do better all the time I was there. Never made it to Tia’s level of writing, but managed I hope to contribute.

    When I did not even see potential in myself, he did. His mentoring then and all along were extraordinarily helpful. When I went to Berkeley to prepare urban principals and had 400+ grads, it was his voice and example I held in encouraging those coming along to do this work for a vision of a better America and taking up the pledge that all our children are all our children.

    Blessings and thanks to Sam,

    Lynda Tredway

  6. Nelson Smith 16. Apr, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

    John, thanks for this great piece. I’m saddened to hear of Sam’s illness but am glad to see this rightful tribute to his work and to the man himself. When I landed in Washington in the mid-80s, trying to get my mind around education issues as a new staffer at DOE, it seemed that everyone had an ideological axe to grind. Sam was one of the few who not only knew education and social policy deeply, but was also generous in sharing what he knew, without consideration of partisan labels. I hope a lot of young people read your column and hear his name and learn from his example. All good wishes to him and his family.

  7. Glenda Partee 16. Apr, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

    Thanks John for this wonderful piece on Sam. It’s so . . . so essence of Sam. I could not have appreciated a better colleague, mentor, and friend. He knew how to pay it forward. You could never share a piece of your written work with him without him reaching for his pen and beginning edits. Whatever he touched–a life, a memo, an idea–he made better. Let’s keep up the good work for Sam.

    Glenda Partee

  8. David Hornbeck 16. Apr, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    Thanks John, I didn’t know, but am not surprised, that Sam was a key mentor for you. In addition to all of his wonderful public service accomplishments, Sam is a strong competitor for “most decent human being I have known”. He always listens and understands. He is patient while living a life of urgency. He seeks softer edges without sacrificing principle. He exudes compassion but is not mushy. More than just about anyone I can think of, Sam defined moral action as service to other people, not to create dependency but to enlarge opportunity. Certainly, one of the richest experiences of my life was serving on the W. T. Grant Commission that produced The Forgotten Half. What a joy to be led by its executive director Sam and its chair the incomparable Doc Howe. Your comments on Sam have punctuated my day with all kinds of vivid memories and pivotal moments in my life…even your mentioning Ed Meade, through whom I got my first big grant in 1967 to support a first stint of rabble-rousing in Philly. I know we are supposed to seize today’s opportunities and challenges of leadership but I long for the wisdom, good sense, humanity of leadership from the likes of Sam, Doc and Ed. They are good definitions of life giving human beings and outstanding public servants. I look forward to others who join in paying tribute to Sam on these pages. Thanks again for giving us the opportunity to share with one another.

  9. Emily Feistritzer 16. Apr, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    John, Thank you for doing this. Sam Halperin is truly one of those rare “bigger than life” people who really did care about education and made things happen to make it better. I remember when I first interviewed him at IEL for a story in our new Teacher Education Reports newsletter back in the early 80s, he gave me a history lesson on Washington ways with education policy — lessons that have served me — and so many others — well. What a great education leader. What a great man!

    Warm regards,
    Emily Feistritzer

  10. Checker Finn 16. Apr, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

    When I got to Washington for the first time, in early 1969, as a (very) young White House staffer assigned to the education beat, Sam was already leading the Education Staff Seminar and I was invited to participate. Which I did. It–and he–did me a world of good in at least three ways. First, I learned a ton about education, both from the national-policy perspective and from people and institutions and programs nearer to the ground. Second, I got acquainted with scads of other participants in the education world. (I had come straight from graduate school, after all.) Third, I was immersed in a now-vanished environment of non- (or at least bi-) partisan fellowship, decency, shared learning and mutual respect. Would that one could still find such an environment in today’s policy-and-governing circles. Along the way I, like so many others, came to love Sam for his generously-shared knowledge, deep experience, boundless enterprise, fundamental humane-ness and, perhaps most of all, desire that those in positions of influence use their opportunitie for the benefit of kids and society, not some narrow agenda or advantage of their own, their party, their organization or their boss.
    PS: There were some mighty good meals, too!

  11. Mike Bowler 16. Apr, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

    John, thanks for doing this! I’m another whose personal and professional life Sam changed! Thanks, Sam

  12. Joe Nathan 16. Apr, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

    Dear Sam,

    Fascinating to see the range of people who are responding. I want to add a bit to what John wrote.

    Two of Sam’s many important contributions were the “What Works” and More “What works” publications. I wrote newspaper columns praising those books, cited them in classes and workshops I’ve done, and strongly encouraged people starting schools, whether district or charter, to read and use them.

    I remember Sam’s openness and eagerness to focus on what really helps students – and to avoid what seemed like less useful debates about, for example, which is better, district or charter.

    It’s terrific but not surprising to learn how he helped John Merrow.

    Many many adults and children have gained from Sam’s work.

    Thanks so much.

    Joe

  13. patricia albjerg graham 16. Apr, 2014 at 9:29 pm #

    Thank you, John, for your message about Sam. Like so many others, I want to add my deep appreciation to Sam for his generosity to me, explaining the ways of HEW, Washington, and educational policy when I arrived as an absolute neophyte in early 1977. He was authoritative, tactful, and most of all generous with his knowledge and understanding. Further, he understood my naivete and made excellent suggestions about persons who could augment my limited knowledge of Washington ways and what passed for educational policy at the time. I was a complete unknown to him, but he took the time to instruct me about issues and individuals, and I benefitted enormously from his tutorial and am profoundly grateful to him for it. Clearly what he so graciously did for me, he did for many, and for that he wins the admiration of multitudes. May he hear from many who will testify to his wisdom and grace. Pat Graham

  14. Letitia Chambers 16. Apr, 2014 at 9:51 pm #

    The Education Staff Seminar at IEL was an important resource when I moved to DC in 1975 to join the staff of the Senate Budget Committee and later when I served as Staff Director of the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources (now the Help Committee). The trips were not only great learning experiences, but the the bi-partisan camaraderie and friendships made created subsequent good will in many policy debates, and in Committee Mark-ups and Conferences. Sam was accessible and helpful and always happy to give his sage advice. His contribution was immeasurable. Too often we don’t say thank you or reach out to pay tribute to the roles that others have played in our lives or careers. Thank you for doing so and for providing this opportunity for others to recognize the contributions of Sam Halperin

  15. Gail Spangenberg 17. Apr, 2014 at 11:32 am #

    Sam, dear Sam, you were a member of the CAAL board for many years (Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy), a member of the blue-ribbon National Commission on Adult Literacy which produced its still-influential report in 2008, Reach Higher, America, and a good and valued friend. Like many others my life has been deeply touched by you and your extraordinary qualities and I hold you in deep affection, too. The CAAL website carries two of your wonderful little publications, which I’d like to share here. One is your essay titled “Reflections on the Fortieth Birthday of the Adult Education Act of 1966,” written in December 2006. It can be found at http://www.caalusa.org/halperinabe40th.pdf . The other, reflecting your belief in the importance of informed engagement in the political process, is called “A Guide for the Powerless and Others Who Don’t Know Their Own Power: A Primer on the American Political Process.” It is available at http://www.caalusa.org/guidetopowerless . Here’s to you, Sam! You are a shining example of how to live a life well.

  16. Andrew Hahn 17. Apr, 2014 at 11:35 am #

    What a lovely set of remarks. They spark warm memories and remind us of the role caring and enduring friendships can play –even in the especially hard work advancing significant policy change.

    I was always proud Sam used my research when putting the Forgotten Half together. His role as an historian of sorts for the vulnerable youth field– is precisely what is needed to influence policy, improve outcomes and more. Younger advocates need to know what we tried and what worked (and didn’t).

    He is a friend. Lots of folks here at the Heller School admired his work and the opportunity to work with him. Sam often asked me to put a good word in with grantmakers and it was a pleasure to recommend him although when foundations began to ask Sam about logic models, outcomes, impacts and the like —and how these connected to seminars, field trips to programs, useful reports etc — I knew that maybe the field had gone a little crazy for my tastes.

    So John thanks for what you do too,

    Andy Hahn, Brandeis
    Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy
    and the Center for Youth and Communities
    Heller School for Social Policy and Management

  17. Gail Spangenberg 17. Apr, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

    Sorry, the URL for the second link my my message above is missing a .pdf. The URL should be http://www.caalusa.org/guidetopowerless.pdf . It is a terrific publication.

  18. Arnold Packer 19. Apr, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    Its been decades since I saw Sam but I remember him with great pleasure. IEL was a great and useful organization. And so was Sam.

  19. Barry Stern 19. Apr, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

    I am privileged to be among the many whose lives have been enriched by Sam Halperin. In 1976 before the Camp David accords I went on an Education Staff Seminar (ESS) to Israel that Sam led. To this day it remains as one of my most remarkable travel and educational experiences. Sam was so respected by Israeli authorities that top government officials became available to us. His reputation and organizational skills enabled us to see and experience in two weeks what most do in two months. Sam asked me to pull together and edit the ESS trip report. I still have it and will treasure it as a reminder of this extraordinary leader and human being.

    An ESS trip to Alabama enabled our group of 30 to experience the unique blend of southern hospitality and politicking. We walked past the red carpet reception on the airport runway before realizing it was for us. Then our hosts herded us onto a school bus; a state educational official sat next to each of us. They all knew our names and job titles. Following our motorcycle-escorted bus trip to the state capitol, we met with Gov. George Wallace, who made us honorary members of the Alabama militia. That evening a dinner meeting in our honor was attended by some 300 educators and political figures. Three TV channels covered the event, which was keynoted by the lieutenant governor. At 8 am the next morning we were greeted by a marching band on the airport runway of a small town whose high school wanted to showcase their career education program that a federal seed grant had helped start. Our visits to schools in Birmingham and Mobile had similar surprises, including more receptions with TV coverage. Lesson learned – people pay attention if they think you can steer resources their way, and their people will pay attention to them if they believe they can deliver.

    I’m also grateful to Sam and his ESS team for arranging our “Welfare, Workfare and Work Farewell” presentation which shared research about how the increasing rigidity of the school-to-work-to-retirement transition in the U.S. was hurting the economy and family life, and what could be done to create more balance at the different stages of life, e.g. job sharing, work sabbaticals. I suspect many of our observations would be relevant to solving today’s twin dilemmas of not enough jobs and the job-education mismatch. In any event, books like MegaTrends, Passages, and What Color is Your Parachute picked up on our findings. Unfortunately, we weren’t smart enough to figure out how to capitalize on them as well. Nonetheless, thanks to ESS’ initial support we were invited to present our findings at various conferences.

    Finally, let me add my tribute to the Forgotten Half reports that Sam co-authored when with the William T. Grant foundation. These helped provide intellectual support for a slew of innovations supported by the Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education in the early 1990s — career academies, integrated academic and technical curricula, work-based learning, youth apprenticeships, tech-prep, dual enrollment, industry skill standards, workplace and family literacy, etc. Such innovations began to chip away at the false dualism of career vs. college. I was privileged to support a very capable assistant secretary in developing these initiatives. Sam was a frequent visitor providing encouragement, connections and advice. The rest as they say is history. Millions continue to benefit from these innovations. And the President wants to build on these to establish even better workplace-education connections.

    So, thank you, Sam, for who you are, all you’ve done, the millions your initiatives have benefited, and your friendship and encouragement.

  20. Harley Frankel 20. Apr, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

    I have already written Sam several emails telling him that he was my most important mentor and the person who had the greatest influence on my career. I think John Merrow’s piece is outstanding. I’m going to take a different approach.

    Sam played an incredibly important role in getting an enormous amount of legislation passed during the Great Society days that will benefit all those in both elementary & secondary eduction and young adults in higher education–WITH A SPECIAL EMPHASIS ON LOW-INCOME AND MINORITY STUDENTS. In fact, more vital legislation was passed in this period than at any time in our nation’s history.

    The key to making new legislation fulfill it’s promise to all is to implement it well and to sustain it in the future and to protect it from all those who will want to dilute it’s impact or to eliminate it.
    One of the many things that made Sam so special is that by establishing ESS and IEL, he developed an apparatus to continue his great work for many decades later through all of us whom he trained.

    Let me give you a few examples from my career. Sam took me all over this country and the world–Japan, Russia, Israel, Puerto Rico, even China (which Sam facilitated for me) but the most impactful trip in terms of public policy accomplishment was when Sam took a group of us to visit four Black Colleges in the South–Hampton Institute, Norfolk State, Fisk and finally, Tennessee State. By the time we reached the latter, I was tired of listening to administrators and wandered off into the quad (I always was a bit of a renegade.)

    I met some extraordinary bright and eager young students and they all told me that they would only be going to Tennessee State for one year because the college did not have sufficient financial aid for them to attend four years. This didn’t make any sense to me since Sam had gotten the Congress to pass several large student financial aid pieces of legislation.

    When I returned to Washington ( I was focusing on education policy and management in the HEW UnderSecretary’s office) I convinced the powers to be to let me head up a small Task Force (with Dennis Bakke) to find out why schools like Tennessee State were not receiving sufficient financial assistance from the Office of Education. It turns out that the vast majority of the funds were being sent to the nation’s largest and most prestigious institutions of higher learning which had a much smaller % of low-income students than the Tennessee States of the world.

    Since the Administration had proposed the BEOG/Pell legislation (which I had nothing to do with but completely supported) Dennis and I were able to persuade the powers that be to change the higher education financial aid distribution formula so that the colleges with the greatest % of low-income students got the highest priority in the distribution of student financial aid resources.

    However the big payoff in the student financial aid area that Sam had stimulated for me came three years later. Senator Pell had understood the importance of BEOG legislation (later it became Pell Grant Program) and as a result, it passed the Senate on a bi-partisan basis by about 85-10, but it was hung up in the House. The House Democrats were furious at Nixon for vetoing two elementary & secondary education appropriations bills as well as The Mondale/Brademas Child Development Act. In addition, they were being told by the powerful colleges represented by 1 Dupont Circle that Pell was a bad idea (because the large powerful colleges liked having the discretion of giving out student financial aid to whomever they wished instead of having the Federal funds going directly to the lowest income kids.) As a result, the House Democrats were opposed to passing the Pell Grant Program.

    Right before Spring Break 1974, the full House Education & Labor Committee took a straw vote and it was 15 Democrats against and 12 Republicans for (how ironic is that in today’s politics?) Anyway, although I was running the National Head Start program at the time, Sam had kindled in me a strong commitment to the need for Pell to pass and I went up on the Hill and attempted to convince one of the key Democrats who knew me well (and knew I was a liberal Democrat) to vote for Pell. He responded by saying that he knew it was a good bill, but he couldn’t go against his Party on this one.

    Fortunately, I had a very good friend (who Sam also had mentored) who was dating him and the two of them (both single adults) were planning to go to the Caribbean together over Spring Break. She was a very bright and articulate friend (for whom I had done numerous favors) and I went to her and essentially said I need a big favor–spend the next 10 days convincing this guy to vote for Pell and bring one colleague along with him. She succeeded and the full Education & Labor Committee passed Pell 14-13 in April 1974. (I never thought of this earlier, but had Pell not passed then it probably never would have become law for Richard Nixon resigned four months later.) Because of Sam, Pell became the law of the land and millions of low-income students have benefitted from it over the past 40 years.

    One more area where Sam mentored me to improve public policy. On many of his ESS trips, I got to know and develop a nice relationship with Harley Dirks, who was the key staff person on the Senate HEW-Labor Appropriations Committee. In those days, a staffer like Harley Dirks controlled many of the key appropriations decisions. For years, Head Start had never received a program increase (just cost of living increases.) I was able to persuade Harley (again thanks to Sam bringing us together) to change that and in 1977, Head Start received the largest % program increase in the entire HEW-Labor Appropriations bill. Several years later, believe it or not, I was able to get the incoming Reagan Administration to announce in their first week that they would never cut the Head Start program. For the next 8 years, Head Start was the only domestic discretionary program that was never cut during the Reagan Administration.

    So Sam was not only an important mentor to hundreds of us, but because of what he taught us, we were able to continue his great policies and values for many years AFTER HE left Government.

  21. John Merrow 06. May, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

    Sam passed away this morning at about 8:15 at his home in Washington. His family was with him, and he was not in pain. American education has lost a great leader, but all of us are better off for his having lived.

  22. Judy Karasik 09. May, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

    Dear John Merrow–

    Thanks for this; I see I am way late at weighing in. Just wanted to say, for the record, that Sam was also tremendously helpful and influential when AmeriCorps was getting started. I’ll just repeat what so many said above: generous, wise, funny, acutely insightful, with a wonderful light touch he steered many in directions that were simply more productive and which always kept the needs of low-income communities and communities of color, and the empowerment of those individuals, front and center. And he was just. . . . loveable.

    Rest in peace, Sam!

  23. Lisa Walker 15. May, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

    Like so many others who have already commented here, Sam Halperin had a huge impact on my career and on my life. I am blessed to have been able to tell him that again recently before he passed away and to have him ask me how I was doing – and how education writers were doing.

    I came to work with Sam and so many others in education in 1978, after Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. Sam and others at IEL had created a program like the Education Staff Seminar in the states – the State Education Policy Seminar – aimed at helping staff in state legislatures and state education and nonprofit agencies learn more about education issues in an atmosphere where questions could be raised, research could be shared and conversations had across partisan lines. I was hired to work with states to identify issues and bring knowledge to bear in states as they responded to the new federal law mandating education for all in the public schools (and IEPs, parent involvement in the least restrictive environment).

    Coming from work on that law on Capitol Hill with a background in political science, I knew numbers of children, variations in state law but what I actually knew about individual states and their politics was….shall we say, limited. What ensued, with Sam as a mentor, Phil Kearney as a guide and so many state leaders, is a tribute to the incredible willingness of people across the country to embrace change and an incredible learning experience for me. North Dakota in the winter, Mississippi in the summer, so many state legislatures and individual school districts.

    Through all of this, Sam was my stalwart support – as a boss – and as a family friend. He and his wife Marlene were good friends, mentors, family and great fun.

    Later, after I left IEL to join the Education Writers Association, Sam and I shared concerns about changes in journalism and he always asked – as he did in our last conversation – about the state of American education journalism – another area of his interest, as he felt strongly about the role of journalists in the health of democracy and fairness to all people.

    Sam had a profound impact on my life and I hope he felt buoyed as he prepared to pass on by the change he made, by kindness and intellectual curiousity, on so many lives. Not just those of us that he touched personally, but widening circles of children and adults who have been affected by our work made so much better by his concern.

  24. Sharon Enright 15. May, 2014 at 7:00 pm #

    I so regret that I did not know of Sam’s illness before his death earlier this month. Deena had tried to contact me, but her emails disappeared into my office’s “junk” mail.

    Like so many others who have commented here on Sam, I, too, was influenced early in my career by this remarkable man. Sam hired me in 1974 to work for him at the Educational Staff Seminar. Before long, he took over the leadership of I.E.L, and I became the director of ESS. (I think of this now and am appalled–I was so young!) I stayed until 1976 when I returned to Stanford to get a graduate degree in education policy–something I would never have considered without the remarkable learning experiences I had under the tutelage of Sam.

    In the almost forty intervening years, I kept up with Sam only sporadically. My career moved away from education policy (California’s Proposition 13 put a damper on that career choice) and toward fund raising. But Sam kept me on his mailing list–sending me the remarkable Forgotten Half among other publications. I was in awe.

    My memories–like so many others–are of Sam’s good humor in mentoring me. There were plenty of times I questioned my own abilities, but Sam’s usual response was–just do it–you’ll be fine. And mostly I was, because I knew he had my back.

    He was also a good sport. My tenure at NPCA intersected with those early, heady days of the Women’s Movement. Sam withstood some pretty unseemly “demands” from a cadre of us who were a little too impressed with ourselves. He listened and was beyond supportive.

    Most of all I remember traveling to Israel with an ESS group–with Sam and Marlene. We were there a month after the end of the Yom Kippur War. We met with an educational leader our first evening; he had just lost a son in the war. Sam talked the authorities into letting our bus up onto the Golan Heights where we viewed burned out tanks and saw the spot in Guneitra where Walter Cronkite had stood the week before. We were the only American group we encountered during those two weeks. Sam stuck by his word to bring this group of Americans to Israel, and everywhere we went–aided of course by Sam’s excellent Hebrew–we were welcomed and thanked. Such a remarkable experience. While I have done a lot of traveling since then, this is one overseas experience I will never forget.

    Finally I am left with the vision of Sam’s remarkable, energetic stride. I can picture him in so many situations moving with speed and enthusiasm. I have a feeling he’s still doing just that.

    I am most saddened by his death; at the same time, I am proud to have known a man who lived his life so very well.

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