Barbara Schneider, 70, top educator in District 2

By Ed Gold

Barbara Schneider, a longtime Villager and an outstanding and creative educator in the New York public school system for almost 50 years, died on Jan. 26. She was 70.

She succumbed after a long struggle with cancer, but remained active as an educator till the very end, according to her husband, Ronald, himself a high school teacher and a former president of Manhattan’s Community School Board 2.

She used her skills and experience in many districts in Manhattan, including Chinatown, Chelsea, Gramercy Park, Clinton and, of course, the Village.

Daria Rigney, the current superintendent of School District 2 — which covers most of the elementary and middle schools in Manhattan below W. 59th and E. 97th Sts. — said of Schneider, “Throughout her entire career, Barbara sustained a passionate interest and irrepressible dedication to the children and teachers in New York City, and particularly her beloved District 2.”

Rigney added of Schneider, “Her years of supporting teachers culminated in the crowning glory of her career, as the director of the Professional Development Laboratory for District 2. In this position Barbara was instrumental in developing teacher leaders, all of whom went on to become mentors, staff developers and school teachers.”

Schneider’s educational skills took her to Washington 10 years ago, where she testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education and Labor, then chaired by Senator Ted Kennedy.

She received several notable awards, including the Manhattan Distinguished Educator Award; the District 2 Gifted and Talented Grant in three successive years; and the Trachtenberg Award from the United Federation of Teachers.

She was inspired in her work by her mentor, Tony Alvarado, former chancellor of New York City’s public schools and a superintendent in District 2.

Her last assignment was in Chinatown, with its large number of immigrants, where she developed a literary staff and coordinated an America Reads program, among other educational projects.

In Chelsea, she chaired an advisory commission that helped create the High School for Humanities, replacing a high school long considered in the neighborhood as a “drugstore.”

In Clinton, she assisted the principal at P.S. 51 in working with staff, parents and students. At P.S. 40 in Gramercy Park, she coordinated and taught teachers of enrichment programs through the sixth grade. She also taught there, and was a computer coordinator and a math coach preparing students for high school. In Greenwich Village, she was principal of the Early Childhood Center, and during a pregnancy she taught at P.S. 41.

Her own education was at Hunter College where she received M.S. and B.S. degrees. She also attended New York University’s Graduate School of Education, which had a sixth-year certificate program.

As director of District 2’s Professional Development Lab, she planned and coordinated educational programs, and was a participant at the National Development Conference.

A memorial service was held for her at Riverside Memorial Chapel on the Upper West Side, attended only by family and close friends. At the chapel several family members and friends spoke of her personal qualities — her intelligence, humor, devotion to family, her cooking skills and her passion for education.

At the service her daughter, Jennifer, called her mother “the mayor of 12th Street.” She said she had “a kindness with an edge” and recalled “her love for her work.”

She mentioned, too: “My mom was not a pusher of food, although one would think — Jewish mother, pusher of food.” Instead, her mother would ask, “Why are you eating that?”

Also reminiscing was Schneider’s close friend, Amy Tan, the famous author, who noted that “we shared birthdays and had birthday parties together,” adding that her friend was “much better at taking care of details, organizing the picture board, getting the special cake.”

Tan ended her remarks by saying, “We all have ways that remind us daily of Barbara, that very big place she had in our lives, the endurance of her bossy, protective love.

“They are the things we cannot explain in words. It is simply the love we felt for Barbara and what she felt for us.”

The Schneiders had lived in the Village for 40 years in a famous 100-year-old building called the Ardea on W. 12th St., when they sold the apartment and moved to Battery Park City. Two years later, in 2006, they bought an apartment in the Village half a block away from their previous residence.

For many years at the Ardea, she held a New Year’s Day party which was jammed by family and friends, who enjoyed lasagna, one of Schneider’s cooking specialties.

She is survived by her husband, Ronald; her daughter, Jennifer, and Jennifer’s partner, Bill Oetjen, who live in Vermont; her son, David, his wife, Patty, and their three children, Molly, Max and Layla, all from Brooklyn; and her brother, Ronald, and his wife, Helga, who reside in Battery Park City.

A memorial service for all who knew her will be held on April 13, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at La Guardia Arts High School, 100 Amsterdam Ave.