Doris Brevard, the former principal at Vann Elementary School in the Hill District who was credited with eliminating the “achievement gap” between Black and White students, passed away, June 7, just five days after her 88th birthday.
Niece Linda Wilson, who had lived with her for the last year, said she’d been in good health until very recently.
“She had been hospitalized, and with getting her new medications straightened out, it was too much for her,” Wilson told the New Pittsburgh Courier, June 12. “She just went to sleep. I had been talking with her just 10 minutes before. So now I’m taking it moment by moment. She was a very special woman to me. She was my auntie.”
Though Brevard had no children of her own, Wilson said she had hundreds by proxy—the students who attended Vann Elementary when she served as principal from 1969-1995. During those years, on multiple occasions her students outperformed White students in other schools across the city.
In 1983, between 65 percent and 75 percent of Vann students scored at or above the national average on the California Achievement Test for math, language and reading. And on one occasion when Vann students scored the highest in the city, the superintendent at the time made them retake a test—and they aced it again.
Wilson said Brevard consistently ignored directives from the school board on how classes should be taught because what she did worked. The flip side of that was that the board made no effort to duplicate her success in other Black or White schools.
As the New Pittsburgh Courier reported in July 1983, “Not a word was uttered by the top people at the Pittsburgh Board of Education about the quality of education going on.”
“Oh, they did not want to see her coming,” said Wilson. “It was not easy. She said there was no support, the materials were always secondhand—she refused to do what the board wanted. She felt she knew what was best for the kids, the teachers and the families. She ruled her school, but she ruled it with love, and the kids knew that.”
Brevard’s father, Henry Middleton Garrett, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Dental School in 1912, and opened a practice in Pittsburgh the next year. The family lived on the North Side and Brevard was born in 1930. She attended Pitt, and had to commute because Blacks were not allowed to live on campus. She earned her education degree in 1952 and joined Pittsburgh Public Schools as a librarian. She later received her graduate degree from Columbia University.
A private family service was held for her, June 11, at the Homewood Cemetery chapel. A public memorial is scheduled for 2 p.m., July 1, at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Homewood.