Ann Bolger, Cambridge Chronicle, June 2001

By Susan J. Miller

ANN BOLGER, for twenty-seven years the beloved parent coordinator at the Graham and Parks Alternative Public School, died of cancer on May 23, 2001. She was 61. The parent liaison positions that are now a universal feature of Cambridge schools are based on the job she created, and her work is nationally recognized as a model for family involvement in schools.

Ann began her career in education as a parent at the newly established, parent-founded Cambridge Alternative Public School (CAPS), which later became Graham and Parks. In 1974, she was hired as a half-time -- and the next year as the full-time -- parent coordinator under the principalship of Dr. Len Solo, who had just arrived to lead this small, dynamic, fledgling institution. Ann and Len worked closely together until Ann's death. Today, Graham and Parks is considered a model of successful education. In 1993 it was named one of the country's outstanding schools by Redbook magazine; it was designated the Disney Learning Partnership Spotlight School of the year 2000. The success and innovations of the school are inextricably bound up with Ann's tireless efforts and imaginative ideas.

The position of family coordinator was crucial to the form of education Ann and Len championed, founded on the belief that a school should be a democracy in action, a community made rich by the involvement of parents, staff, and students, both in decision making and in the educational experience. To achieve the goal of integrally involving parents in the running of the school and in the classrooms, each family had to be known and their individual skills and talents marshalled and encouraged.

As the first parent coordinator in the city, and one of the first in the country, Ann had to invent her job. In the days before a centralized school assignment system was established, she created an admissions policy for CAPS, a complex process looking at race, gender, and income, She developed a system for forming well-balanced classrooms, she initiated a springtime open house for kindergartners entering the following fall, and she wrote an almost-daily newsletter packed with school and community news that was sent home with every child. She made sure that teachers were accepting of parents in the classroom, and she encouraged parents to come into the classroom, whether to cook an ethnic dish, read in the mornings, or talk about a career as a doctor, architect, or coach. She was the force behind the book bag program, in which each child from grades K-2 is sent home with a different canvas bag of paperback books every other week throughout the year.

Her office was always humming with activity. She was the person you turned to in any sort of need, who never stood on ceremony, never considered a job beneath her. She was the person to whom a sick child would go if the school nurse was not in. She was the one who did the lice check, who was never afraid to literally get her hands dirty. Yet she was equally adept in a public capacity, speaking and writing eloquently, and serving as a mentor to and trainer for the newer parent liasons, meeting with them twice monthly. "Everyone admired her," said Lena James, family coordinator at the King Open School for twenty years, "She was a consensus builder who in the midst of sorting out conflict never alienated any group or person."

Len Solo, at a lunch given in April 2001 to honor Ann and other members of the school staff, said, "If this school is like a body, Ann is the heart and soul." For her, "there was no job too small and no job too big." Len referred to her as his coprinicipal, with a voice equal to his on all the committees in the school. She came in at 7AM and often worked until 10PM "I never saw her get angry at a parent or a child," said Len, in awe, as everyone who knew her was, of her patience and compassion. She was a tireless voice for equity in the school, insisting that all systems, from admissions to class placement, be run with utmost fairness, and that attention be paid to the needs of each child. She worked hardest with families who had the least and who needed the most. She "embodied goodness," said Len. "As an incredibly moral person," she "raised the moral level in the school."

Ann Keefe was born Dec. 3, 1939 in Back Bay, Boston and grew up in Cambridge. Her parents were immigrants from Ireland. Ann graduated from Matignon High School. She was an avidly curious person, fascinated by people, a news hound who read the paper daily, watched and attended city council meetings, and was a community activist with special interests in affordable housing and health care. In addition, she was a talented artist who got great pleasure from drawing and painting. "She was very engaged in life and community," said her daughter Mairin, a "fun mother" who took her five children out every weekend to the movies, museums, and plays, sent them off to Europe when they were older, always encouraging them to see the world. The Bolger household was lively, the door always open to neighbors and friends, for whom Ann would drop everything and listen, asking "How can I help you?" if there was a difficulty that needed sorting out.

She served for twenty-one years on the board of Cambridge School Volunteers, Inc., distinguishing herself as an outstanding advocate for parents in the education of their children. For 15 years she was a member of the School Health Task Force, successfully lobbying for additional school nurses and fora comprehensive health policy for the schools.

Ann was survived by Frank, her husband of forty-one years; her sister, Peggy Umanzio, of California; her children Erin, Sean, Mairin, Sheilah, and Colleen; seven grandchildren; and countless grateful students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

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