Gifted Educator Retires


ST. LOUIS – How appropriate it is that so many of Sunny Pervil, Ph.D.’s peers and former students consider her a gifted educator. For Pervil spent much of her career helping to shape the landscape of gifted education in the St. Louis area, as a professor in Maryville University’s School of Education for 22 years; and as a mentor, innovator and parent.

Pervil is retiring from the Maryville faculty to spend more time with her family. While she will remain on the periphery of the local gifted education scene, her impact on a daily basis will be conspicuous by its absence, colleagues say. “In many ways, Sunny has always been a ‘pied piper!’, said Mary Ellen Finch, Ph.D., the University’s interim vice president for academic affairs. “She is a gifted teacher and teachers from the entire area came to Maryville because of her. She will be deeply missed.”

Finch’s ties to Pervil run deep. She was Pervil’s eighth-grade teacher in the Ladue School District. Later, both of them were in graduate courses together at Washington University. Ultimately, Finch, a former dean of Maryville’s School of Education, convinced Pervil to join Maryville’s SOE faculty, first as an adjunct member for seven years before she joined the full-time faculty in 1985. “Sunny’s contagious enthusiasm and true belief for meeting the needs of all children really resonated with the teachers and teachers-to-be in our teacher education program,” Finch remarked.

Pervil, whose real first name is Shirly but who was nicknamed “Sunny” as an infant because of her good disposition, said teaching is all she ever wanted to do. “I loved teaching my friends (when we were growing up). I loved explaining things.” Her 38-year teaching career began in the late 1960s in Boston, where she taught high school English and later a split fourth grade/fifth grade classroom at an elementary school. When her family moved back to St. Louis in the early 1970s, job openings for traditional teaching positions were scarce so Pervil took a job with the Parkway School District in the newly emerging area of gifted education.

“It was kindergarten through sixth grade; I taught 90 mini-classes to 1,000 students,” Pervil recalled, saying that experience convinced her that gifted education was where she wanted to stay. “I loved the children; their ideas kept me so excited.” Someone who went through Parkway’s gifted program but not as a student of Pervil’s is Joan Oakley, who today is executive director of student services for the Ladue School District.

Oakley, who received a bachelor’s degree from Maryville in communications in 1985, said Pervil was her first instructor when Oakley returned to the University to earn a master’s degree in education. “Her real gift is helping people see their strengths,” Oakley said of Pervil. Oakley, who will be a member of the first graduating class in Maryville’s new doctoral program in educational leadership, said Pervil has been a mentor and friend. “I think of her as my fairy godmother,” Oakley said with a laugh.

Through the years, Pervil’s passion for gifted education intensified, especially after recognizing that her own two children were gifted. Disappointed with the lack of programs geared toward exceptionally gifted children, Pervil helped found the Program for Exceptionally Gifted Students and served on the group’s board for 16 years. In the spring of 2005, in efforts to fill a void created by the elimination of art programs in local school districts due to budget cuts, Pervil convened a group of local educators to lay the groundwork for what would become the Arts Ahead Academy.

The Academy, which will begin its third year in the fall with classes for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders, is based in the Ladue School District, which donates classroom space for the program. Classes began in September and are held every Tuesday after school for 16 weeks each semester.
Several Academy teachers are former students of Pervil’s, who ardently believes that gifted children are entitled to the same level of services as others with special educational needs. “Gifted students have needs, too,” Pervil said. “They deserve to come to school and learn something new every day.”

While stepping away from the classroom, Pervil plans to remain active in causes for which she feels strongly, including the Program for Exceptionally Gifted Students, consulting with school districts to help with their gifted programs, the St. Louis County Library Foundation Board and the Eliot Society Library Committee at Washington University, as well the Eliot Library’s national council.

In recent years, Pervil has launched a writing career and, along with St. Louis journalist and author Ellen Harris, had an article published in St. Louis Magazine in 2005 on the Whittemore House, the supposedly haunted faculty club on the Washington University campus.

Pervil currently is researching the life of Eliza Haycraft, a madame who operated a brothel in St. Louis in the mid-19th century. “She was the Heidi Fleiss of her time,” Pervil joked. She added in a more serious tone, “If she (Haycraft) were alive today, she probably would be CEO of a Fortune 500 company.”

Pervil remarked that it’s hard to believe the past 38 years have gone so quickly. “I hope I’ve helped people fulfill their dreams of being a teacher.”

Maryville University, founded in 1872, is a private, coeducational institution offering approximately 50 undergraduate, seven master’s and two doctoral degree programs to 3,300 students. Ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s Best Colleges in the Midwest, Maryville University prepares its students for successful and meaningful careers by offering programs that integrate liberal arts with professional studies.

Among Maryville’s most recent graduates, 94 percent are employed or attending graduate school. Approximately 15,000 alumni work and live in the St. Louis region.

Maryville University, founded in 1872, is a private, coeducational institution offering approximately 50 undergraduate, seven master’s and two doctoral degree programs to 3,300 students. Ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s Best Colleges in the Midwest, Maryville University prepares its students for successful and meaningful careers by offering programs that integrate liberal arts with professional studies.

Among Maryville’s most recent graduates, 94 percent are employed or attending graduate school. Approximately 15,000 alumni work and live in the St. Louis region.