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Lynne M. Berman, artist, cofounder of the Philadelphia School, and former Inquirer manager, dies at 80

“When the first of my three kids was little, I noticed how curious he was, unlike a lot of big kids I’d see,” Mrs. Berman wrote. “So, the Philadelphia School was born not to kill curiosity.”

Lynne Berman became an accomplished potter after taking classes in Boston, Miami, and London.
Lynne Berman became an accomplished potter after taking classes in Boston, Miami, and London.Read morecourtesy of the family

Lynne M. Berman, 80, of Philadelphia, a teacher, social worker, artist, cofounder of the progressive Philadelphia School, and former director of the popular Newspapers in Education program at The Inquirer and Daily News, died Tuesday, Aug. 31, from lung cancer at home in Center City.

Curious, friendly, empathetic, and fiercely devoted to education and children, Mrs. Berman led an eclectic life that pointed her to positions in teaching, child care, journalism, and pottery.

“She had a difficult time deciding what she wanted to do when she grew up,” joked her son Michael.

Whatever she did, Mrs. Berman usually did it well, and was always all in. She briefly taught English in Philadelphia after college, and worked as a social worker at a city day-care center.

She directed the Newspapers in Education program for a dozen years at The Inquirer and Daily News, and later became an accomplished potter whose works can be found in homes and exhibits around Philadelphia.

But it was her role as cofounder of the Philadelphia School that may have been closest to her heart. As her oldest child, John, reached school age in the early 1970s, Mrs. Berman sought a place where he and other children could learn about the history, culture, and natural beauty of Philadelphia as well as the traditional subjects taught in elementary and middle schools.

When she found none to her liking, she and longtime friend Caroline Simon spent two years founding the Philadelphia School. In 1972, they opened the doors to 11 students (including Mrs. Berman’s son) in kindergarten and first grade, two teachers, and a headmaster in a rented space at Rodeph Shalom Congregation on North Broad Street.

Located now at 2501 Lombard St., the school instructs more than 400 students from preschool through eighth grade.

“When the first of my three kids was little, I noticed how curious he was, unlike a lot of big kids I’d see,” Mrs. Berman wrote in an online autobiography. “So, the Philadelphia School was born not to kill curiosity.”

Mrs. Berman, her husband, Peter, and children John, Elizabeth, and Michael all stayed active at the school over the next 50 years. The children attended the school, and all five family members served on the board of trustees.

Two of her grandchildren also attended the school, and Mrs. Berman often referred to it as her “fourth child.”

“Lynne was compassionate to the world around her, gifted with a wonderful sense of humor, deeply committed to her family and friends, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment,” Lisa Sun, head of school at the Philadelphia School, wrote in a tribute.

In 1981, Mrs. Berman became administrator of The Inquirer and Daily News’ Newspapers in Education program, and created lively printed supplements filled with news and stories for children that the papers distributed monthly in their editions and made available for use in classrooms.

“She loved journalists, and children, and education, so it was a great position for her,” said former Daily News staff writer Kitty Caparella.

In 1994, after leaving the newspapers, Mrs. Berman became a self-described “addicted potter.” Her husband, a neurologist and professor, was embarking on a yearlong research sabbatical, and she joined him as they traveled to and lived for a time in Boston, Miami, and London. Curious about the art, she took pottery courses at each stop.

“By the end of [1994], I knew I was a potter,” she wrote in her autobiography. “I love the feel of the clay passing through my fingers.”

Born Sept. 17, 1940, Mrs. Berman grew up in Melrose Park and graduated from Cheltenham High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Simmons University in Boston in 1962 and a master’s degree in social work from Bryn Mawr College in 1965.

To relax, Mrs. Berman liked to read mysteries and sample ethnic food. Her son Michael said she was anything but the stereotypical mother, engaging in burping contests at the dinner table, and reacting to their occasional curse word by defining it so well they hesitated to use it again.

“She was a force,” he said. “Always curious, she had the ability to foster that and connect with people.”

Caparella said, “She was generous, kind, and loving.”

In addition to her children, Mrs. Berman is survived by six grandchildren, a brother, a sister, and other relatives. Her husband died in 2016.

A service is to be held Saturday, Sept. 11, at 2 p.m. in the Garden of the Schwartz Siegel Early Childhood Education Center at the Philadelphia School, 2501 South St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19146.

Donations in her name may be made to the Philadelphia School, 2501 Lombard St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19146, and the Clay Studio, 137-139 N. Second St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19106.