Heart of the School Awards: Night of Celebration for Baltimore City Public Schools Principals

— For many students across Baltimore, May is prom time but thanks to the Fund for Educational Excellence, Baltimore City Public Schools’ principals enjoyed a festive and fun spring celebration of their own.

Ten City Schools’ principals were honored at the Hippodrome during the Second Annual Heart of the Schools Awards on May 22, 2017.

“This special night recognizes our district’s exceptional leaders and highlights ten who have demonstrated exemplary innovation, execution and leadership, building strong school cultures,” said Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools.

John B. King, Jr., CEO of the Education Trust and former U.S. Secretary of Education, encouraged the principals to build foundations of love and hope in the future.

“I want to thank the principals in the room for leading from a place of love,” King said. “For understanding that at the foundations of schools are relationships. You give them that word of encouragement at the end of the day and ensure them you’ll be right there tomorrow to love them and stand for their success.”

Five grand prizewinners, from a diverse array of public schools were selected through an extensive nomination and review process and received a $2500 award to support programs and initiatives.

Tammatha Woodhouse, principal of Excel Academy at Francis M. Wood High School, one of the night’s winners. Marveled in her acceptance speech she said, “this is the first time that an alternative school has been honored.”

Roxanne Forr, principal of Cecil Elementary School, gained credibility in the community and the confidence of a staff that has seen their principal serve the Northeast community, as well as the school for more than a generation. Forr has been Cecil’s principal for nine years but has worked there—her “home away from home”— her entire career.

“I have been fortunate in my tenure at Cecil to have been surrounded by great mentors, teachers who are eager to learn, caring parents, and giving partners all for 30 years,” said Forr.

For Samuel Rather II says serving as principal at Calvin M. Rodwell Elementary School opens up opportunities to defy stereotypes every day.

“Why is it that when I tell people that I work for Baltimore City Public Schools it is naturally assumed that I work with discipline or athletics? I wonder if it’s the same reason that I was written off as a problem student who didn’t care about school,” said Rodwell who is a young African-American male. “You couldn’t have told me as a kid that I would be a teacher, let alone a principal. But something changed.”

Crystal Harden Lindsey, a native Baltimorean was honored for her work to make Green Street Academy a comprehensive, wrap around community school, where everyone in the West Baltimore neighborhood near the school is welcome.

“I believe that strong educators can change the trajectory of students across our nation while simultaneously, transforming communities in impoverished areas,” Lindsey said. “Education can be the currency to defeat poverty.”

Christophe Turk, in his fourth year as principal of George Washington Elementary in Southwest Baltimore shares a love for his students, staff, parents and the community that radiates from the hugs and handshakes he freely gives at school all day. Turk has also served as the leader of the advocacy movement led by principals in City Schools to support additional funding.

“This work consumes a lot and it is serious work. I take it seriously and everyone in this audience takes it very seriously [too],” said Turk. “This is not something that I earned, but something our entire George Washington Elementary School has worked in collaboration to develop.

“This award is the result of great people who take a student first approach and work so incredibly hard because they are fully invested in making a difference each day,” he ended.

Five additional principals were recognized and each was awarded a $1000 educational grant to use for any need in the school. They are: Corey Basmajian, Principal of Windsor Hills Elementary/Middle School; Patricia Burrell, Principal of North Bend Elementary/ Middle School; Amber Kilcoyne, Principal of Medfield eights Elementary School; Danielle Tillman-Cromartie, Principal of Armistead Garden Elementary/Middle School; and Zaharah Valentine, Principal of Baltimore Design School.

“Every day, our principals are building positive environments where students and teachers can thrive,” said Roger Schulman, president and Chief Executive Officer of the Fund for Educational Excellence. “Through the Awards, we’re showing our principals that we support and value the critical role they play in the lives of our students and the success of our city.

The Heart of the School Awards debuted in 2016 to spotlight the pivotal role principals play in the success of their schools and students. The inaugural event was attended by nearly 600 community members and helped raise more than $250,000.