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This Day in History – November 30, 1971

Barbara Sizemore is named superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools

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On this day in 1971, Barbara Sizemore was named superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools, making her the first African American female to head the public school system in a major city.

Sizemore was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1927. At the young age of 16, she graduated high school and went on to attend Northwestern University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in classical languages in 1947. By 1954, she had earned her master’s degree in elementary education. Sizemore continued her education father, receiving a PhD from the University of Chicago in educational administration.

She began her career teaching English in Chicago public schools from 1950 to 1963 and was then promoted to principal of Chicago elementary and high schools, a position which she held until 1967.

Two years later, she was elected district superintendent of the Woodlawn Experimental Schools. Also serving as a member of the adjunct faculty at Northeastern Illinois University and a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Sizemore began her research on the relationship between low-income black students and standardized tests.

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Her first book, titled The Ruptured Diamond: The Politics of the Decentralization of the District of Columbia Public Schools was inspired by her doctoral thesis and published in 1981. Sizemore’s second book was published in 2008, four years after her death.

From the 1970’s until her death, Sizemore served as Professor Emerita at DePaul University as well as a scholar in residence at the National Alliance of Black School Educators. Throughout her career, she received four honorary doctorate and a lifetime achievement award from the Research Focus on Black Education. Duquesne University’s School of Education named the Barbara A. Sizemore Distinguished Professorship in Urban Education in her honor.

Sizemore died in 2004 in Chicago, Illinois.

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