When the telephone rang in Joseph Renzulli’s office one day last summer, and the voice on the other end asked if he would take a call from Terry McGraw, the Neag professor’s first reaction was, “Who’s Terry McGraw?”
Not only is McGraw the chairman, president and chief executive officer of The McGraw-Hill Companies, he also had the pleasant task that day of informing Renzulli that his groundbreaking work in gifted and talented education had earned him the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education.
The prestigious honor, first established in 1988, is given each year to those who, in the company’s words, “have dedicated themselves to enhancing learning and whose accomplishments are making a difference.”
In citing Renzulli for the award, Terry McGraw said, “His work has enriched the education of thousands of students. We’re proud to honor him and showcase his efforts, and we hope this award will inspire others to follow in his footsteps.”
“I was floored by it,” Renzulli says of the award, which includes a gift of $25,000. “This is my 44th year at UConn, and it’s nice to know that somebody out there thinks I’m doing something worthwhile.”
Renzulli’s fellow honorees at the ceremony, held at the New York Public Library, were Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education at Stanford University, and Sarita Brown, president of the not-for-profit group Excelencia in Education.
Renzulli is quick to credit his wife and partner at the UConn-based National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, Distinguished Professor of Educational Psychology Sally Reis, for her work with him in expanding the idea of what he calls the “g” word. “At some point a few years ago,” Renzulli says, “I realized that the kinds of things Sally and I were advocating for gifted students could also be good for all students, that they could help kids find school to be more challenging, more engaging and more joyful.”
That led to the creation of their Schoolwide Enrichment Model, now used in more than 2,500 schools nationwide, and to their new on-line enrichment program, Renzulli Learning, developed in connection with the UConn Research Development Corporation.
The McGraw Prize, while gratifying, also offers Renzulli a bigger stage, a chance to be heard and an opportunity to further the cause of getting beyond what he calls a “dark period” in education that placed far too much emphasis on test scores.
“We need another kind of trophy case in schools,” Renzulli says. “We need to value kids who’ve gotten things published, kids who’ve started a community action campaign, kids who’ve helped poor children in a hospital or day care.”
For Renzulli, that kind of thinking is, as he sees it, “not rocket science, just a whole lot of organized common sense.”
And while the McGraw-Hill honor was unexpected, he says, “I will darn well try to put it to good use in order to get the message out that schools can and should be places for talent development and enrichment.”
* Soon after this interview with Dr. Renzulli was conducted, he and his wife decided to use the financial award towards a scholarship fund they endowed several years ago. Find out more about that