Bernadette Marie Mulholland grew up in New Jersey as the oldest of four children. At Bernie's memorial service last month, Bill Mulholland pointed out that she and he were "double cousins" -- their fathers were brothers, and their mothers were sisters. She loved family, and family stories.
That is not so surprising. Like other successful teachers I have met, Bernie had a talent for turning her classroom into a home. When Mount Vernon started IB, thought by some to have little chance of helping the school's many underperforming, impoverished students, Bernie talked the custodian into providing rugs, bookshelves, an old sofa, an easy chair and a table for the back of her classroom. Her History of the Americas students found a cozy nook with a coffeepot, a hot-water pot, hot chocolate, bread, peanut butter and jelly.
As they got to know Bernie, they grew more comfortable with the class and her persistent questions. But progress was slow, and it was very hard for her. She did not realize how much strain she was under until the afternoon when Principal Calanthia Tucker stopped Bernie, trudging to the school parking lot loaded with papers, to tell her "how blessed we are to have you here." Once Bernie got to her car, she burst into tears.
IB is all about writing, and that was Bernie's specialty. She taught writing education at George Mason University and was co-director of the Northern Virginia Writing Project. I said a few words at her memorial service, knowing she would shake her head at my repetitions and awkward phrases. She would have told me, as she told her students, to rewrite, and rewrite again. She got each student involved in reading classmates' stuff, as a close family would do.
As Mount Vernon's IB program grew and prospered, Bernie was persuaded to leave the classroom to coordinate all IB and Advanced Placement programs in the county. That forced her to deal with me and my high school ranking system, the Challenge Index, the latest version of which will appear Thursday in The Post's Extra sections. I measured schools by how many AP or IB tests they gave, not how good their scores were. That was controversial. Like many educators, Bernie was not sure she wanted each of the county's complex, diverse high schools summed up with one number. But she embraced the idea of moving away from judging schools by test score averages -- which really meant ranking them by parental income -- and instead calculating how much depth and rigor students were getting in courses.