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Anna Marie Farnish, passionate educator, dies at 57

The field of education was more than just a job to Anna Marie Farnish. It was her life's passion.

"She was always an educator at heart," said Farnish's sister, Marian Vergona of Venice, Fla. "Her primary goal in life was to educate as many children as possible and to make learning a reality for every student regardless of their ability."

As vice president of programs for the Institute for Student Achievement in Lake Success, Farnish, a Glen Cove resident, oversaw the implementation of the organization's school turnaround model in 80 high schools across New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Louisiana and Georgia.

Farnish died Jan. 19 in TideWell Hospice House in Venice, Fla. after a battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 57.

Farnish was born in Swissvale, Pa., and earned bachelor and master degrees in special education from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

Farnish taught in Pittsburgh and Newport News, Va., before taking a job in 1981 with the University of Pittsburgh as a program development and implementation specialist.

She then went to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where she was a senior training program coordinator and a university instructor before becoming the director of training for the Center for Social Organization of Schools. In her time there, Farnish designed curriculum and training materials for more than 750 schools in the United States, Japan, Germany and Belgium.

In 2002, Farnish went to work for the Knowledge Works Foundation in Cincinnati, where she was a school performance coach. In 2004, Farnish became chief academic officer for the Center for Leadership in Education in Elyria, Ohio, and was then made director for Making Middle Grades Work, a part of the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta. In 2007, she joined the ISA.

"Anna Marie's passion for education, her energy, humor and warmth will be deeply missed," said ISA president Gerry House.

Vergona described her sister as kindhearted with a bubbly personality that would light up the room. Farnish loved to crack jokes and tell stories, Vergona said. "She was great at storytelling," she said. "And when she had a group of young children around her, they were just captivated by her."

Farnish's spirited demeanor remained intact even as cancer took over. "As much as she was suffering or in pain, she always kept a smile on her face and a positive attitude that she could beat this," Vergona said.

In addition to her sister, Farnish is survived by brothers Michael of Swissvale and Louis of Pittsburgh.

A Mass of Christian burial was celebrated on Monday at St. Barnabas Church in Swissvale, followed by burial in All Saints Braddock Catholic Cemetery in Pittsburgh.

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