Champion of Equal Access To Education, Norm Fruchter Dies At 85!
Norm Fruchter, a civil rights activist, documentary filmmaker, and novelist who dedicated his life to ensuring that all pupils, regardless of their race, ethnicity, class, or wealth, receive a quality fundamental education, passed away on January 4 in Brooklyn. He was 85.
According to his wife, Heather Lewis, he was hit by a car on December 22 as he crossed the street in front of his home in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of the borough, and complications from those injuries led to his hospital-acquired death.
Lifelong educator Norm Fruchter assisted in getting the go-ahead to open Independence High School in Newark in 1970. The institution, designed for underachieving pupils, served as a model for alternative secondary schools across the nation.
He was a key figure in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a civic organization that launched a protracted legal assault against the methodology by which Albany funded the New York City school system.
An appeals court concurred in 2003 that the state’s method of allocating educational aid was unconstitutional and that New York City was not receiving enough money to comply with the law’s standards for providing a fundamental education. The choice increased the city’s school system’s annual funding by millions of dollars.
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Lester Young, the chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, said in a statement that “Norm was part of everything, and in very intentional but very discreet ways,” referring to every significant, big educational program in New York City.
Mr. Fruchter founded and oversaw the Center for Education and Community at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, as well as the national Dropout Prevention Program for the Ford Foundation. He was also the founder and director of the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University.
He had devotedly participated in Students for a Democratic Society, an activist group. He was detained in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair for opposing segregated and unequal educational opportunities in New York City schools. Because he refused to take a loyalty oath, he was not hired to teach film at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Mr. Fruchter was not an ideologist, however, in contrast to many of his more extreme peers.
According to Paul Lauter, a literature professor at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and the author of “Our Sixties: An Activist’s History” (2020), “He was a significant force in turning ’60s’movement’ ideas about educational change — student-centered, less authoritarian and bureaucratic — into practical policies that were often adopted by the political mainstream in New York and Newark.”
Norm Fruchter wasn’t only an educational visionary, and a champion for justice & civil rights…
… he was also an inspirational mentor to generations of organizers — including me — who already miss him.https://t.co/3AHUgWT8MO
— Brad Lander (@bradlander) January 6, 2023
Professor Lauter said, “In particular, he supplied new ideas about what community-based schools could achieve and he offered helpful ties to those in the trenches working to educate marginalized pupils, typically poor kids of color, with the innovative education they required.
Mr. Fruchter was described as “a visionary, an intellectual, a radical organizer and mentor” by the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at New York University. He was “steadfast and unapologetic in his conviction that public school parents and youth, especially those from marginalized communities, should be in the lead of education policy.”
When Was Norm Fruchter Born?
On August 11th, 1937, Norman David Fruchter was born in Camden, New Jersey. Louis, his father, was employed by an electronics manufacturer. Betty (Levin) Fruchter, his mother, worked in accounting. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in English from Rutgers in 1959 after leaving Newark High School.
After graduating from college, Mr. Fruchter worked as a Fulbright fellow teaching high school students in England. He then came back to Newark to teach high school alongside Tom Hayden and other political activists from Students for a Democratic Society. Later, he founded the Newark Community Union Project and co-directed “Troublemakers,” a documentary about civic engagement in Newark that some critics characterized as revolutionary, with Robert Machover.
Two books by Mr. Fruchter were published, “Coat Upon a Stick” (1963) and “Single File” (1970), a story set in New York about a young welfare worker who “frets against his dead marriage” and looks into the murder of one of his clients, according to a favorable review by Nora Sayre in The New York Times Book Review.
From 1983 until 1994, Mr. Fruchter served as an elected member of the Community School Board in Brooklyn’s District 15, which encompasses Park Slope. In a collision in 1997, his first wife, biologist Rachel Gillett Fruchter, was killed when a van hit her bicycle.
He is survived by his wife, Ms. Lewis, a professor of art and design education at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, as well as his stepchildren, Jesse, Alina, Shayna, and Joshua Lewis, four grandchildren, and four step-grandchildren. He also leaves behind a son, Lev, and a daughter, Chenda Fruchter, both from his first marriage.