Alumni News

School of Education honors five with awards

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Education honored five people – a former director of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and four alumni – at its 14th annual Distinguished Alumni Awards Dinner on Saturday.

“The School of Education is delighted to recognize the contributions and accomplishments of these honorees,” said Bill McDiarmid, dean of the School of Education. “Each of them has demonstrated a deep commitment to education and we are grateful for their work and their creative contributions to the field, to students and to schools.”

James Gallagher of Chapel Hill, an internationally recognized early childhood development expert who is senior scientist emeritus and former director of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, was given the Peabody Award, the School of Education’s highest honor.

The alumni receiving awards:

  • Frank Comfort of Eagles Mere, Pa., who received a master’s degree from the School in 1969 and went on to become the winningest collegiate swimming coach in history, received the Distinguished Leadership Award.

  • Iris Weiss of Chapel Hill, who earned a Ph.D. from the School of Education in 1975 and has led a long career in science and mathematics education, received an Alumni Achievement Award.

  • Ben Matthews of Cary, who received a bachelor’s degree in 1971 and a Ph.D. in 1984 from the School of Education and has worked at the state level in education since 1987, received an Alumni Achievement Award.

  • John Claude Bemis of Hillsborough, who received a bachelor’s degree in 1995 and a master’s degree in 2003 from the School of Education and has worked as a teacher and is an acclaimed children’s book author, received the Excellence in Teaching Award.

James Gallagher

James Gallagher

James Gallagher

Gallagher was named director of the newly formed Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute in 1970 after serving in the U.S. Department of Education, where he was involved in the development and passage of legislation regarding children with disabilities. During Gallagher’s 17-year tenure as director of FPGDI the institute became one of the nation’s leading research institutions emphasizing the importance of early childhood education, especially for children from disadvantaged circumstances. Among his many accomplishments, Gallagher served on the planning team that developed the N.C. School for Science and Mathematics, which has since been emulated in other states and countries.

After 43 years at the institute, Gallagher continues to work there as a senior scientist. He is currently finishing, with co-author and FPGDI colleague Mary Ruth Coleman, the 14th edition of the introductory textbook “Educating Exceptional Children.”

Earlier this year he was given The Old North State Award. In 2005, he was given the Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in Psychology in the Public Interest from the American Psychology Foundation. He has served as president of and received awards from the National Association for Gifted Children, the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children and the Council for Exceptional Children.

Frank Comfort

Frank Comfort

Frank Comfort

Comfort, whose swim teams at Carolina and Johns Hopkins University won 576 dual-meet victories, the most of any coach in NCAA history, got his start coaching the freshman swimming team in 1968 while studying for his master’s degree in physical education at the School of Education. He was head coach at Johns Hopkins from 1968 to 1977, where members of his swim teams won 12 NCAA individual titles and one relay team title, and the Division III men’s championship in 1997. He was inducted into the Johns Hopkins Athletic Hall of fame in 1997.

He took the coaching job at Carolina in 1977, coaching there for 30 years, winning 26 Atlantic Coast Conference titles, more than any other coach in conference history. His men finished 13 times in the NCAA top 25; his women, 25 times, including nine seasons in the top 10. His athletes also excelled in the classroom: Among his many Academic All-Americans, three won the Patterson Medal as the top senior student-athlete at UNC-Chapel Hill.

He also worked to raise philanthropic support. Before he retired in 2007, UNC became the nation’s first swimming and diving program to be fully endowed with all the scholarships NCAA rules would permit. He also helped create more than $1 million in endowment funds for the program and established two endowed scholarships, one at Syracuse University and the other at UNC’s School of Education.

Comfort continues to coach, serving as the volunteer boys’ assistant basketball coach at Sullivan County High School in Pennsylvania.

Iris Weiss

Iris Weiss

Iris Weiss

Weiss launched her research career at Research Triangle Institute in 1974, and in 1977 led a National Science Foundation-funded survey of science and mathematics education in the U.S. The study has been conducted four more times since, with Weiss leading the effort, most recently in 2012. The survey is considered the most authoritative source of information on the status of K-12 science and mathematics education and has guided policy and practice in the field for more than 30 years.

Weiss left RTI in 1987 and founded Horizon Research, Inc., which is recognized as a national leader in research, evaluation and technical assistance in science and mathematics education. She retired from Horizon’s presidency in 2012.

Among her accomplishments, Weiss chaired a committee for the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science, authoring a report on understanding the influences of national standards in science and mathematics education. She also led the evaluation of the National Science Foundation’s Local Systemic Change program, which involved more than 80 multi-million dollar projects, helping to develop evaluation capacity in mathematics and science education nationally. That work included the development of a classroom observation protocol that was one of the first specific to science and mathematics, one which continues to be widely used.

Ben Matthews

Ben Matthews

Ben Matthews

Matthews, who started his career as a teacher, moved into education administration after obtaining his master’s degree, serving for six years as a principal. After getting his doctorate from Carolina, he worked for the N.C. State Board of Education, then moved to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, where he has worked since 1989.

He served for 18 years as director of the Division of School Support, leading efforts in plant operations, food service and transportation. This year, Matthews was named director of DPI’s Division of Safe and Healthy Schools Support where he has focused on working to make schools safer from violence. He serves on the School of Education’s Alumni Council, where he has served as treasurer and president.

John Claude Bemis

John Claude Bemis

John Claude Bemis

Bemis, who graduated from Carolina in 1995 as a North Carolina Teaching Fellow, taught for 13 years in elementary schools in Chatham, Durham and Orange counties.

Bemis writes children’s books and is the author of the “Clockwork Dark” trilogy of fantasy books for fourth- to eighth-graders. The first in the series, “The Nine Pound Hammer,” won numerous awards, including the New York Public Library Best Children’s Book for 2009. The third book in the trilogy, “The White City,” won the American Association of University Women North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award in 2012. Bemis’s fourth book, “The Prince Who Fell From the Sky,” was named Amazon’s Best Book of the Month in May 2012.

Bemis is serving as the 2013 Piedmont Laureate, a position that involves workshops, reading programs and other events to expand appreciation of children’s literature in a four-county area of central North Carolina.