Wyatt Thomas Coger, a longtime Baltimore educator who was tapped to reform one of the city's toughest middle schools and later was a professor at Coppin State University, died of colon cancer Wednesday at St. Agnes Hospital. He was 62 and a resident of Lewisberry, Pa.
During a 33-year career in Baltimore's public schools, he had assignments in four elementaries - Stewart Hill, Montebello, Abbottston and Lexington Terrace - and Harlem Park Middle School. He served as a teacher, education specialist and an assistant principal and principal. He was principal at Lexington Terrace when he was brought in to restore order to Harlem Park Middle in 1993.
His was the only middle school to participate in a failed effort by a for-profit Minnesota company, Education Alternatives Inc., to raise standards at nine city schools.
Still, Mr. Coger oversaw a rewards system with the YMCA that improved attendance and pushed to increase the number of students qualifying for gifted and talented programs at the 1,400-student school. He was known for tireless efforts to improve performance and keep educators motivated despite overcrowded classrooms and threadbare resources.
"We're winning the war," Mr. Coger told his staff during a meeting in 1995. "We've got 'em in the classroom. Now you're going to have to reach back, use all the tricks at your disposal and make sure they're engaged."
Mr. Coger retired from the school system in 1999, and since then had been an assistant professor at his alma mater, Coppin State, where he mentored student teachers on leadership and motivation.
A native of Wolfe, W.Va., Mr. Coger moved to Baltimore with his family early in his childhood. He was a 1962 graduate of City College, and received his bachelor's degree in elementary education from Coppin - where he met his future wife, Andrea Lane.
While working for the city school system, he earned a master's degree in early childhood education in 1971 at what is now Towson University.
Mr. Coger was president of the Valley Brook neighborhood association in Pikesville in 1980s.
Collecting antiques was another of Mr. Coger's passions. His daughter, Taifa A. Coger-Boatright of Silver Spring, said he would regularly attend weekend art sales and bring back furniture, jazz records and black memorabilia, such as ceramic and wrought-iron art pieces.
Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. today at Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, 2812 Reisterstown Road in Baltimore.
Surviving, in addition to his wife of 32 years and his daughter, are a son, Lasan R. Coger of Baltimore; two brothers, Charles E. Coger of Pikesville and Joseph A. Coger of Baltimore; and three sisters, Betty L. Ross and Valerie S. Pearson, both of Baltimore, and Elva E. Radcliffe of Odenton.