Phyllis Teather-Burke, a longtime Baltimore County public school educator whose specialty was early-childhood education, died Wednesday of cancer at her Glen Arm home.
She was 77.
"She was an outstanding educator who had a deep commitment to children," said former state Superintendent Nancy L. Grasmick, who retired in 2011. "She was a highly respected and an amazing educator."
The daughter of a businessman and an educator, the former Phyllis Burke was born in Valhalla, N.Y., and settled with her family in Reisterstown in 1942.
After graduating from Milford Mill High School in 1951, Dr. Teather-Burke earned both a bachelor's degree in education in 1965 and a master's degree in 1966 in early-childhood education from what is now Towson University.
She earned her doctorate in administration in 1977 from theUniversity of Maryland, College Park.
From 1961 to 1964, Dr. Teather-Burke worked at the Towson Children's Center as a kindergarten teacher, and from 1966 to 1968 taught first, second and third grades at the old Lida Lee Tall School that was located on the campus of Towson University.
She was an assistant professor of education at what was then Essex Community College from 1968 to 1970, and from 1970 to 1977 was an education specialist in the field of early-childhood education for the Maryland Department of Education.
Dr. Teather-Burke joined Baltimore County public schools in 1977, working as a supervisor in the office of elementary instruction, and served as principal of Fullerton Elementary School from 1985 to 1987.
She was named assistant superintendent for Northwest Area schools in 1987, a position she held until 1992, when she was appointed assistant superintendent of curriculum instruction.
"Phyllis was an excellent staff member and was very, very strong in the area of curriculum development, so she brought a very strong institutional component to our staff," said Dr. Robert Y. Dubel, who headed Baltimore County's public schools for 16 years until retiring in 1992.
"She also had a very gentle leadership style. Phyllis was like your mother, you didn't want to upset her. While she was a quiet and soft-spoken person, she was a very effective leader."
Dr. Grasmick had been an old friend and colleague for years.
"She was very close to Nancy, who was her mentor and sponsor," Dr. Dubel said.
Said Dr. Grasmick: "Phyllis was the person who established the early-childhood education program for the county that continues. She was not only an advocate, she was able to convince people that this was an important area in which to invest.
"This was in the era before after-school care and child care centers. But she believed that this was a continuing path that began early in a child's life and carried on through their formal education. She was ahead of her time and truly a pioneer."
Even though Dr. Teather-Burke retired from county public schools in 1995, she remained active in education.
She continued her work in early-childhood education and made a seamless transition in 1995, when she joined the Aliza Brandwine Center for Parent and Infant Development Inc., as a board member and later president.
The nonprofit program that began on the campus of Towson University, and later became associated in 1996 with Baltimore County public schools, is named for Dr. Aliza Brandwine, a Towson University faculty member who developed a model of a school as a community center. It helps prepare students for school through socialization and stimulation at a critical time in their lives while giving parents and caregivers education and support.
"The program works with parents and children who range from infants to 4 years old," said Janet V. "Jan" Simons, who is a team leader-resource teacher for the Aliza Centers in the county schools' northwestern and southwestern area.
"Phyllis was extremely important to the staff and as a mentor. She helped us with the program when we were at Towson and then when it became part of county schools," Ms. Simons said. "And all of that is largely due to Phyllis' work. Her connections helped us to grow and become better known."
Dr. Teather-Burke resigned as president of the board in August 2011 because of failing health.
In the 1960s, she was a founding member of Towson Unitarian Universalist Church.
She was a longtime subscriber to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Baltimore Opera Co. She was a world traveler, dog fancier and collector of bells.
"She absolutely loved Marin Alsop, her brightly colored conducting shirts and her power as a positive role model for women," said Jon Shorr, her son-in-law, who lives in Pikesville.
Services were private.
Dr. Teather-Burke is survived by her husband of 17 years, Ronald Teather, a retired banker; a son, Paul Kopelke of Hampden; a daughter, Kendra Kopelke of Pikesville; three stepsons, Eric Teather of Elkton, Mark Teather of Bethesda and Tom Teather of Melbourne, Fla.; a brother, Frank Burke of Baltimore; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Earlier marriages to James Kopelke and Gerry Riggleman ended in divorce.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times