Marvin Pittman passionately believed that all children can learn and invested his life in helping make that happen.
Pittman, who passed away in September 2016 after a short battle with cancer, wanted all children to have an equal opportunity at education. But he had a particular interest in children from low-income families.
A native of Pinetops, Pittman grew up on a farm in eastern North Carolina, where he quickly realized that education opened doors for a better life. He decided to pursue higher education and, after graduating from George Washington Carver High School in his hometown, enrolled in North Carolina Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount. He later completed graduate degrees in mathematics education at North Carolina State University and school administration at North Carolina Central University.
Through more than 40 years in education, Pittman served as a math and science teacher, assistant principal, principal and as a senior administrator in the Wake and Durham county public school systems as well as the NC Department of Public Instruction.
Early in his career, Pittman observed that poor and minority children, regardless of the setting, didn’t receive the same quality education that others did. He became a tireless advocate for ensuring that educators had the tools and resources needed to best serve children. It was a commitment that made him “that kind of lamp that anybody would want to follow,” remembers his wife, Earnestine Pittman.
Moving to the state Department of Public Instruction allowed him to impact even more children. He developed a cultural diversity training program for educators, helped lead in developing promotion standards and pursued strategies for closing student achievement gaps. He retired in 2009 as community liaison for the NC State Board of Education.
But retirement didn’t dampen Pittman’s enthusiasm for children. He formed an education consulting firm and continued serving on advisory boards and organizing community forums with the goal of bringing change to classrooms, the educational system, and his community.
Pittman’s favorite project was the annual Closing the Achievement Gap conference. About 100 people attended the inaugural event in Greensboro in 1997. By the end of his tenure in 2009, the conference hosted over 3,000 people and was a gateway for educators to come and learn about how to raise the performance of students of color and children of poverty. For Pittman, it was clear that test scores did not tell the whole story because although those children had the ability to achieve, their needs were not being meet effectively and efficiently.
Pittman also played a significant role at Compassionate Baptist Church in Raleigh, as a deacon, adult Sunday School teacher, and chairman of the education committee. His goal through his church, his consulting, and his work with Community Helping Hands was to make sure that local and faith institutions played an effective role into children’s lives.
The cornerstone of Pittman’s educational philosophy, and of his career, was the deep-seeded belief that all students in our state had a right to be taught well by educators and that gaps in achievement were not only a moral issue, but were inextricably linked to our collective well-being. Today, his impact is commemorated by the Department of Public Instruction through the Marvin R. Pittman Champions for Education Awards.
By Jasmine McAllister