Educator Jane Rhyne, advocate for disabled children, dies at 66

Jane Rhyne
Jane Rhyne

Colleagues remembered Jane Rhyne on Thursday as a passionate educator who helped transform how Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teaches children with disabilities.

Rhyne, former associate superintendent for exceptional children at CMS, died this week after a long illness. She was 66.

She joined CMS in 1981 as an assistant principal at Metro School, which serves students with mental and physical disabilities. She later was principal of the school and an area coordinator for special education programs. Rhyne was named the associate superintendent in 2001.

In the role, she led a push to move most children with special needs into traditional classrooms. She was a leader in a national philosophy change in how school districts serve disabled children, said Gil Middlebrooks, a former counsel to CMS who specializes in special education law.

And Rhyne testified before Congress several times on how laws such as No Child Left Behind would affect children with disabilities.

“Her job was a big one, and I think she did it extremely well,” said Bill Anderson, executive director of nonprofit MeckEd and former principal of Metro School. “Jane really is credited with modernizing the exceptional children department, putting in procedures and services to meet the needs of all kids.”

Rhyne retired from CMS in early 2013, but much of the policies and procedures she created are still in place today, said Gina Smith, who worked with Rhyne for more than a decade. She now fills the role Rhyne once had.

“In education it’s really hard to set a course and stay with it, but her work really stood the test of time,” Smith said.

A memorial service will be held Monday at Christ Church. Her family has asked that donations be made in lieu of flowers to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Schools Foundation.

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Twitter: @andrew_dunn

Superintendent Ann Clark, on Jane Rhyne

As someone who began my career as a special education teacher in CMS, I know firsthand of the extraordinary work Jane did leading our Exceptional Children's department for many years. Jane stands as the best example I can think of a leader focused on continuous improvement.

While our programs for exceptional children were always highly regarded nationally, Jane was constantly seeking ways to improve programs and services for children with special needs. She was a visionary leader of a department that in most districts focuses strictly on compliance.

Instead, Jane focused on developing new strategies and protocols to improve the achievement of students. She led our district in the implementation of technology well ahead of her state and national peers. It was truly a professional and personal privilege to lead alongside Jane for over two decades in CMS. She was a woman of incredible grace, warmth and professionalism. Most of all, she was a tenacious champion and advocate for children.