Pearl Weiss, 97, pioneering educator


Pearl Weiss, 97-and-a-half, a veteran of the Washington Metropolitan Area for 67 years, died on Monday, Dec. 23.

Mrs. Weiss was a retired educator whose professional life reflects an entire generation of college-educated women for whom teaching blazed a trail for the unlimited career opportunities women now have in society.

In addition to years in the classroom as an elementary school teacher who left an indelible mark on many of her students, Pearl Weiss played a key role in two forward-looking curriculums — the first, the concept of team teaching in elementary schools; the second, special needs curriculums for high school youth-at-risk.

Born on the Lower East Side of New York in 1916, Pearl (nee Schwarzer) Weiss was raised by her mother after her father died in the 1918 influenza epidemic. Completing high school in 1932 at age 16, she went to Hunter College, graduating in early 1936 with a bachelors of arts in education.
During the Depression she worked as a WPA employee teaching homebound students. After moving to Washington, D.C., in 1939 with her husband Gilbert Weiss (an aeronautical engineer with the Navy Department who became one of the architects of naval air power), Pearl Weiss began substituting then teaching at Stanton Elementary School in Southeast Washington, a career she continued in Montgomery County after the family moved to Silver Spring, Maryland in 1955.

The early 1960s were years of innovation in education, particularly in Montgomery County. Under a federally funded pilot, Pearl Weiss developed (together with fellow teachers Phoebe Goodman and Josef Sywonka) a team-teaching model for elementary schools. Operating out of a small auditorium with flexible dividers at Arcola Elementary School, they developed a model allowing team teachers to compliment and utilize one another’s individual strengths, thus optimizing the learning experience for their pupils. Today, team teaching is an integral part of teaching at all levels.

Following the success of the program, Pearl Weiss was again tapped to develop another model — a federally funded three-year pilot program at Northwood High School (developed together with fellow teacher Francis Jordan) that sought ways to keep potential dropouts within the school system, which was not equipped to deal with their special needs. The Work Orientation Curriculum (WOC) model they designed integrated half-days in the classroom — inculcating marketable job skills (from job-oriented reading comprehension and arithmetic to work ethics and etiquette) with half-days in the workplace. The team placed pupils in salaried employment in genuine jobs in the afternoon that were tailored to the abilities and interests of each student, monitoring and counseling students and working with their employers to ensure a successful work experience — principles that are still cogent today as America grapples with the challenge of a “dropout epidemic” of mammoth proportions. After earning a master’s degree in counseling in 1967 from George Washington University, Pearl Weiss served as a school counselor at Parkland Junior High School until her retirement in 1971.

Pearl and Gil Weiss were founding member of Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C., and Pearl was active in the League of Women Voters and Hunter College Alumni. During the last seven years of her life, Pearl Weiss was a resident of a senior housing project in Minneapolis, Minn.

She is survived by two daughters, Wendy Weiss Ackerman of St. Louis Park, Minn., and Daniella Ashkenazy of Kfar Warburg, Israel; five grandchildren — Lisa Markland (Dave) and Ben Bard, Efrat Kaplan, Asaf Ashkenazy and Nadav Ashkenazy (Eti); and three great-grandchildren Itamar and Yoav Kaplan and Rotem Ashkenazy.

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  1. It is wonderful to read this well written, thoughtful and informative article about a woman I admired and loved. As a friend of her daughter, I was often in her home in my teen years, always made to feel so welcomed by Pearl and Gil. I often talked to Pearl about my teen problems, and she always provided warm moral support and a wider perspective: a wise and kind person. Later in life, Pearl and Gil would often spend a few days with our family near Tel Aviv, and we made several lovely trips together. This article is a comfort to me, as it give the larger picture of the meaning of her life.
    “Elli”(as only Pearl and Gil called me)

  2. Living in New York all my life I did not have the luxury of visiting My Aunt Pearl and Uncle Gibby but they always visited us here in New York. Their patience and wisdom were always so greatly admired and appreciated. I can’t count how many times I had spoken with them on the phone seeking advice. The warm support will never be forgotten. We love you Aunt Pearl.

  3. I was aware that your mother had died. Lisa keeps me in the loop. I did not know what her accomplishments were….I am very impressed and happy to
    Have the chance to meet such a lovely lady.


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