College of Education and Human Development

Connect Magazine

Closing the disparity gap in education

David and Margaret Perrin

Making a difference in the racial disparity in Minnesota education.

While listing to public radio a few years ago, David Perrin, MSW ’76, heard that African Americans, men in particular, were 38 percent less likely to drop out of school in the fourth through sixth grade if they had a teacher of color. He found this fact intriguing and talked to his wife, Margaret, MD ’76, about what he had heard.

“We became interested in trying to make a difference in the racial disparity in Minnesota education,” she says.

Looking at the couple’s backgrounds, it’s easy to see where their interest originated. David’s father taught at Minneapolis’ North High School for 40 years and witnessed the changes in student demographics and educational challenges throughout his tenure. David’s own career led him into community mental health and human resources where he saw first-hand the importance of giving back.

After graduating from the Medical School, Margaret set up a pediatrics practice in suburban St. Paul and White Bear Lake.

“When I went into medicine, there were two tracks people could take,” she says. “Research and try to change the world, or primary care and try to change the world one person at a time. That was me. Now, we don’t want to change one person at a time, but maybe one classroom at a time.”

To have a child finish high school and go to college can hopefully change the trajectory of an entire family, Margaret says. So to help lessen racial disparities among students and their teachers, the couple has established the David Perrin and Margaret Hustad Perrin Education Fund.

“We don’t want to change one person at a time, but maybe one classroom at a time.”

“We have all this human capital that is not being developed,” David says. “We have a large group of people, largely African Americans, that are talented and have much to give to our society as anyone, but they lack the opportunities to maximize that. As a society, we are all better off when everyone’s contributing. To be able to help students of color who want to become teachers makes perfect sense to us.”

David says he wants to emphasize that it was the leadership from within the college, particularly Jean Quam and Susan Holter, that really helped make this fund a reality and gave him the confidence that the money would be wisely invested and the results would be great.

The Perrins’ new fund is not the only way the couple is giving back. They recently made a commitment to Campbell Hall, the new home of the Institute of Child Development (ICD). David came back to the college in 1990 to study educational psychology and even then he realized something needed to be done. As part of his program, he took a number of classes in child development and spent time in the old ICD building.

“I was very impressed with the work of ICD and the quality of the scholarship there,” he says. “But what an old and decrepit building. You are not going to attract the best scholars and researchers. Something needed to happen. So we made a separate gift to move that program along.”

Margaret says during their working lives, it was easy to use their gifts and talents on a daily basis. “But when you retire, it’s harder to give back. This is a way to give back in a meaningful way,” she says.

David agrees. “I think education is perhaps the single most important focus for the future and once somebody is educated, that can never be taken away from them and it opens doors,” he says. “It was true in our lives and it’s true for all people.”

Photos courtesy of the Perrin Family

-Kevin Moe