On Thursday, April 22, the CU Denver community learned that the School of Education & Human Development’s dean, Rebecca Kantor, EdD, passed away from a terminal illness. A forward-thinking, influential, tireless education champion, Dean Kantor served the university for almost a decade, touching the lives of innumerable students, faculty, and staff.
Committed From the Start
Dean Kantor developed a robust career as an early childhood teacher, researcher, professor of teacher education, education policy reformer, and public university administrator. Since arriving at CU Denver in 2012, she led the continuing transformation of the School of Education & Human Development (SEHD) into an innovative school that offers contemporary, responsive, and flexible educator, counselor, and researcher preparation.
Dean Kantor earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester in developmental psychology and linguistics, and her master’s with teaching certifications in early childhood and deaf education, as well as her doctorate in language and cognitive development from Boston University. She spent 27 years at the Ohio State University, first as an assistant professor and the Director of the Teacher Preparation Laboratory School and, ultimately, as Director of the School of Teaching and Learning, achieving rank and tenure as a full professor.
Her scholarship was focused on the study of classrooms as social contexts for teaching and learning, and reform of teacher preparation in partnership with schools. Here, she published numerous articles, book chapters, and books in her areas of expertise.
Early Childhood Education Luminary
Dean Kantor had an unbridled passion for reimaging the potential and future education of young children. Many believe that the best-prepared teachers ensure the best outcomes for children. Dean Kantor spent her entire professional career in roles that supported these goals, both as a teacher herself and as a university administrator. She developed programs and led projects to promote the competence and capability of educators and school leaders, always reaching out as a visionary, partner and friend.
Prior to and during her time at CU Denver, she collaborated with early childhood educators in Reggio Emilia, Italy for over 20 years—a place long recognized around the globe for its approach to early childhood education and the quality and creativity of its programs. Bringing her knowledge to our Lynx community, Dean Kantor was instrumental in partnering with the Buell Foundation and Clayton Early Learning to bring the Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program to SEHD. More recently, she brought the National P-3 Center to CU Denver as a way to lead the nation on alignment thinking from birth to grade 3. She was proud of these great accomplishments.
As a thought leader in the education space, Dean Kantor was frequently interviewed by national media outlets around her expertise in early childhood education. This fall, she was featured in a Colorado Public Radio series about Colorado’s Early Childhood Workforce, an initiative she was deeply passionate about. Rebecca was woven into the fabric of not just our campus community and Colorado at large, but the international community. She served as a member of Gov. Polis’ Early Childhood Leadership Commission as well as the following prestigious boards and commissions:
- Denver Preschool Program Board (DPP Quality Initiatives Committee)
- PhD Program at University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy and participating member of the Foundation Reggio Children’s Advisory Group
- Early Milestones (Ideal Learning Project)
- Zone for Inclusive Learning Collaborative (advisory board)
- Colorado Council of Deans of Education (member)
- Preschool Policy Advisory Group (member)
During her tenure at CU Denver, Dean Kantor set out to create an Early Childhood Program with all the right ingredients, including an interesting mix of nationally recognized faculty with different areas of expertise. Her partnership work in this area included collaborations with Boulder Journey School, the Buell Foundation, Clayton Early Learning, Denver Public Schools, and Mile High Early Learning, Sewall Child Development Center, and St.Vrain School District’s P-Teach.
Engaged and Partnered Research
SEHD is known throughout the state as engaged, partnered, and visible in many communities, spanning across the Front Range and throughout rural communities, all thanks to Dean Kantor’s key efforts. She supervised university research and partnered work on issues and problems that matter to our Denver and statewide communities and beyond, including efforts to turn around the rural teacher shortage. She also supervised the Research Evaluation and Methods program whose graduates become researchers, evaluators, consultants, and school leaders in Colorado and throughout the world.
Most recently, Dean Kantor was PI or Co-PI on the following grants:
- A $2.35 million grant from the Early Educator Investment Collaborative to address access to and quality of degrees for the ECE workforce
- A $150,000 Early Childhood Policy at the University of Colorado Denver grant sponsored by the Teacher’s College at Columbia University
- A $110,000 ASPIRE ECE grant sponsored by Constellation Philanthropy.
Expansion of Teacher Education Offerings
Under Dean Kantor’s leadership, SEHD distinguished itself in the teacher preparation licensure marketplace. With 30 years of offering residency programs (extended apprenticeships in schools committed to co-preparing new teachers and principals with SEHD), the school is among the oldest, most experienced residency educators in the state and recognized nationally. Additionally, SEHD was the first school in Colorado to create a variety of customized “pathways” (including ASPIRE to Teach alternative licensure) that ensure access, alignment with students’ needs, and passions to earn degrees with licensure at undergraduate and graduate levels. Pathways include the residency BA in EDHD + licensure program, NxtGEN BA + licensure, rural AA to BA pathways in partnership with community colleges, Master’s in Teaching + licensure program, and ASPIRE to Teach—currently the largest alternative teacher licensure program in Colorado, and nationally recognized for its innovative design.
Through these various pathways, many of which were enhanced by Dean Kantor’s forward-looking mentality, SEHD contributed substantial numbers of teachers to the field in the last five years. Major partners in these efforts include five large metro school districts in the front range, seven community colleges, and more than 50 rural district partners.
Creation of the Human Development & Family Relations Undergraduate Program
Dean Kantor was instrumental in launching SEHD’s thriving Human Development and Family Relations (HDFR) program. HDFR majors are prepared to effectively serve culturally and linguistically diverse individuals and families thereby supporting and improving workplaces and communities. This program was the first of its kind in the United States to offer bilingual (Spanish) HDFR courses, something that was incredibly important to Dean Kantor.
Grooming Principals and Executive Leaders
Dean Kantor also oversaw many program partnerships in principal licensure and executive leader preparation including the Leadership for Educational Organizations program’s stand-alone principal licensure programs, principal licensure + EdD, distance and district-embedded cohorts, administrative licensure for school superintendents, and the Educational Doctorate. Major partners in these areas currently include: Boulder Valley School District, Denver Public Schools, Jefferson County School District, Douglas County School District, and St. Vrain Valley School District.
Supporting Current Practicing Teachers
SEHD’s post-initial licensure master’s degrees with or without additional endorsements grew more than 30% overall during the last five years under Dean Kantor’s leadership. At the same time SEHD’s online and hybrid graduate course offerings grew in all areas: Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education, Early Childhood Education, Learning Design & Technology, Literacy Education, Special Education and STEM Education.
Enhancing Online Education
Dean Kantor realized the significance of digital education as authentic pedagogy, well before it became a pandemic necessity. She invested in her faculty and their ideals around human-centered digital pedagogy, eventually formalizing under the banner of ThinqStudio. Likewise, her participation and value of these ideals led to the arrival of the Digital Pedagogy Lab (DPL) at CU Denver. DPL is an international gathering of educators committed to issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and critical digital pedagogy.
Dean Kantor also oversaw award-winning Couple and Family Therapy and Counseling – Clinical Mental Health and School Counseling programs. Graduates of these programs are recognized for their strong preparation and for providing culturally informed, equity focused services.
Creation of New Doctoral Pathways
Dean Kantor took great pride in SEHD’s nationally ranked doctoral programs and the educational and professional experiences provided to students. Some of the pathways she helped initiate were the Latinx School Communities EdD cohort and the Early Childhood Policy PhD cohort. She played an important role in the PsyD in School Psychology program’s recent APA accreditation (currently on contingency) as well as the availability of the program’s rare bilingual concentration.
Proud of CU Denver
In a recent SEHD alumni and friends magazine, Dean Kantor said she felt truly lucky to be leading a remarkable, talented, and dedicated faculty and staff and to be part of such a dynamic, growing and changing university. She helped introduce many new degree programs with graduate and undergraduate options and developed the Office of Continuing and Professional Education. She was incredibly proud of the SEHD community’s work to teach and counsel for social change. She was driven by a purpose to improve lives; and, most of all, she was dedicated to the success of each and all SEHD students.
Earlier this week, CU Denver’s Chancellor, Michelle Marks, had the distinct honor of awarding Dean Kantor the title of Dean Emerita, with the full support of Provost Nairn, SEHD leadership, and CU Denver deans and executive leadership. This recognition is a testament to her outstanding contributions in leadership, scholarship, and mentorship to so many faculty, staff, and students at CU Denver and the Denver/Colorado community of educators.
We send our love and support to her spouse Reed Martin, her children Evan Martin and Maxine (Josh) Hamann, her granddaughter Colette Hamann, her brother Dr. Seth Kantor and her sister Alice “Ali” Kantor.