Friday, April 4, 2014

Nona Burney Announcement

The College of Education is very sorry to announce that Nona Burney, associate professor of secondary education, died on Monday.  Below is the official announcement. 
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It has been said that social justice is engrained in the DNA of Roosevelt University.  While some may question from time to time the veracity of this statement, there is no doubt that social justice animated the mind, body, and soul of Nona Burney.


Nona Burney was an associate professor of secondary education and a leading activist for educational equality and social change in the cities of Cleveland and Chicago.  On Monday, March 31, she died at her home in Cleveland after a courageous, year-long battle with cancer. She was 64.
Nona’s activism took many different shapes over the duration of her career, but always returned to teaching.  After receiving her B.S. in Education from Northwestern University in 1971, Nona was hired as a social studies teacher at Collinwood High School on Cleveland’s East Side.  The year before her hire, 350 to 400 whites, mostly students, threw rocks at windows and stormed the school, causing the 200 black students in the building to barricade themselves on the third floor.  Collinwood was the scene of other racial clashes, the worst occurring in the fall of 1974. Three black students were stabbed in September of that year, and the next month another student was fatally shot by a sixteen-year-old white student. In order to understand better the conditions that she experienced at Collinwood, Nona enrolled in a graduate program at Cleveland State University, and earned an M.S. in Urban Studies in 1975.  She taught at Collinwood for ten years.
In pursuit of even more leverage in her fight against inequity, Nona enrolled at Cleveland Marshall Law School, and earned her J.D. in 1981. The next year, Nona was admitted to the Ohio Bar and began part-time work as a general practice lawyer.  However, her main focus remained education.  In collaboration with Cleveland Marshall Law School and other partners, Nona led the development of a new magnet high school that would prepare urban teenagers for careers in law and public service.  In 1984, this new magnet school was opened within the confines of Martin Luther King Jr. High School (where it still exists today), and Nona became the assistant principal, serving in this capacity until 1995.   She then served as principal for a year and half, before taking a sabbatical to complete her Ph.D. in urban school administration.  The title of Nona’s dissertation expresses her awareness of the limitations of urban educational reform and her clear-eyed view of the systematic causes of unequal educational outcomes: A Post-Modern Tragedy:  Reform of Education for Children Who Have Been Made Disadvantaged.
With her doctoral degree completed, Nona taught part-time for a year at Cleveland State, but then was hired in 1998 as an assistant professor in Roosevelt’s College of Education.  Here, she taught foundational courses in secondary education and methods of teaching high school social studies, and quickly immersed herself in all aspects of the Roosevelt community.  In addition to publishing several articles about urban school reform, activist teacher education, and the challenges of working as an African American woman in predominately white and male contexts, Nona worked tirelessly to strengthen connections between schools, universities, and communities.  Her signature contribution in this regard was her nurturing of a professional development school relationship with Jones Academic Magnet High School, now Jones College Prep.  Over a period of approximately ten years, Nona assisted with curriculum mapping, drafting program outcomes, assessing arts and technology programs, co-planning and implementing professional development workshops, and facilitating summer seminars, as well as dual credit courses in business, theatre, and computer science.
In 2004, Nona was promoted to associate professor, and in 2007 she became the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning.  Responsible for providing support for teaching across the university, Nona helped to establish service learning as a key feature of a Rooseveltian education and contributed significantly to the development of new RU general education requirements.  In 2010, Nona was appointed chair of the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum Studies, consisting of the early childhood, elementary, and secondary education programs—a position she held until she was diagnosed with cancer in 2013.  Prior to her medical leave, Nona was actively engaged with the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice, the Association of Social and Behavioral Scientists, and the Grand Boulevard Federation Education Committee, an educational reform group active in Bronzeville.
Nona Burney lived a very full life.  She was a mentor to many, a friend to all, and a leader who always spoke truth to power.  Conflicts that others saw as significant she saw as minor, knowing that the real challenges lie well beyond the halls of academia.  She will be sorely missed.
A memorial event for Nona Burney is being organized by the College of Education and will be announced soon. Details about the service and funeral in Cleveland are available on Everything COE, the news blog of the College of Education.

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