Dennis “Denny” Schapiro wanted the best for every child.
Nationally, he helped expand the Montessori educational approach from private to public schools, where all children can benefit, including the poor.
Locally, Schapiro served on the Minneapolis school board and volunteered nearly 16 years as a guardian ad litem, representing neglected and abused juveniles in court.
Schapiro, 68, of Minneapolis, died of a heart attack while walking his dog, AC, around Lake Harriet on May 13.
“He was a mensch,” said his wife, Jeanne Andre, using the Yiddish term for a person of integrity. “It was never about him. It was always about other people, and he could divert you from talking about him.”
A journalist always inquisitive about others, he was cynical by nature — yet hoped and worked for a better world, especially for children, she and other relatives said.
Schapiro volunteered for A Children’s Agenda, identifying ways Minneapolis could do better by its youth, and for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. His Minneapolis school roles not only included three years on the board but also many years on the PTO and district committees.
“He was selfless, he was ever-giving, wanted nothing for himself,” said Augsburg Prof. Bill Green, a former Minneapolis school superintendent and board member.
Schapiro’s career included teaching, reporting, writing and self-publishing, including MetroSports and Public School Montessorian, a national quarterly journal he began in 1986. His company, Jola Publications, publishes physician directories and is named after sons Jeremiah Schapiro and Olatokumbo Shobowale.
They were schooled with the Montessori approach, begun in 1907 by Italian physician Maria Montessori. It’s used in about 5,000 U.S. schools, with multi-age classrooms and three-hour blocks of learning tailored for each child in guided work activity, said Richard Ungerer, executive director of the American Montessori Society.
He said about nine out of 10 of those schools are in the private sector, but Schapiro advanced the movement to bring Montessori into public and charter schools.
“He was able to watch all of us and keep us accountable, and really became an independent voice,” Ungerer said.
“He did his work that he thought was so important and wasn’t in it for the glory; he was in it for the children,” said Anna Perry, executive director of Seton Montessori Institute in Illinois. She called Schapiro a humble man who deflected attention from himself while uniting others.
“He was the one who was always in the back of the room taking notes like a reporter, writing great articles, but knew everybody and helped connect people,” she said. “He had an enormous influence on the growth of Montessori in the public sector and on advocacy for Montessori in general across the country.”
She said plans are underway to honor Schapiro nationally for those contributions.
In Hennepin County, Schapiro fiercely advocated for the best interest of kids in child protection, family court cases and beyond, fellow guardians ad litem Martha Swanson and Mike Tikkanen said.
Schapiro’s understanding “of the political as well as the practical side of children’s issues was extraordinary,” Tikkanen said.
“When he became frustrated with the weaknesses of the child protection system, he became a board member and was soon to be the new president of CASA Minnesota — the nonprofit supporting the guardian ad litem program,” Tikkanen said.
“We were all very excited to have his energy, knowledge and commitment to children.”
In addition to Andre and the two sons, survivors include sister Renie Schapiro and two grandsons.
Services have been held.