Photo: Charles Quigg '09
Wendy D. Puriefoy
Doctor of Humane Letters
“Movement building” is how Wendy Puriefoy describes her life’s work. Beginning as a monitor for the highly contested desegregation of Boston’s public schools in the 1970s, she has been a steady and effective advocate on behalf of children, through an array of non-profit and philanthropic organizations.
After working to integrate the Boston schools, Puriefoy was executive director and CEO of The Boston Foundation, an organization supporting health, welfare, educational, cultural, environmental and housing programs in the greater Boston area. Since 1991, she has served as president of the Public Education Network (PEN), an innovative organization that advances the health of the nation’s public schools through grants from a network of private, community-based organizations. She and her organization actively promote improved education standards for poor and disadvantaged students, largely in urban settings. PEN presses for increased funding, enhanced professional development for teachers, updated school facilities and increased public involvement. The organization has a budget of $8 million and serves nearly 12 million children in 34 states. Puriefoy’s efforts have been directed at encouraging all citizens, not just parents, to take a role in making schools better, in the belief that well-educated students improve the quality of everyone’s life.
Traveling around the country in support of her mission, she is a powerful speaker, a calm and authoritative presence, respected and consulted by a wide range of people involved with public schools. Her organization’s strategy is to help create local education funds, community-based advocacy organizations that engage local citizens in school reform. These organizations have a long-term relationship with particular school districts, acting both as fundraisers and gatekeepers, assuring accountability of teachers and administrators. The local character of the network’s members ensures that innovations and reforms will be adapted to specific settings and can thereby become sustainable.
Puriefoy’s commitment to public education extends well beyond her own organization. She is a member of many national boards and committees, including the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, the Children’s Defense Fund and the Black Community Crusade for Children.