By Lynette Monroe (Program Assistant, NNPA ESSA Public Awareness Campaign)
Salome Thomas-EL, a charter school principal and award-winning national education expert, captivated an audience of over 500 educators with his keynote address on overcoming barriers to success at the 2018 National Title I Conference in Philadelphia, Penn.
Title I schools are characterized by the additional funds they receive to meet the needs of their most vulnerable students. Title I funding provisions are designed to improve the academic achievement of the disadvantaged and to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education. The National Title I Conference engaged educators at all levels around the relationship between cultural competence and best academic practices.
Principal EL leads Thomas Edison Charter School, a tuition-free, public charter school in Wilmington, Del. According to the school’s website, more than 95 percent of students that attend Thomas Edison live at, or below the poverty level.
Principal EL shared the story of the Thomas Edison Charter School chess team that competed and won the United States Chess Federation (USCF) National Elementary Chess Championship in Dallas, Texas on Sunday, May 11, 2014.
Edison was the only school from Delaware competing in the National Tournament, but persevered to bring home Delaware’s first National Scholastic Chess Championship, the school’s website said.
“Thomas Edison is the home of one of the most-fierce, all-female chess teams in the nation,” the school’s website said. “They have won the Mid-Atlantic All-Girls Chess Championship three of the past four years.”
Principal EL left the crowd with four C’s (Crazy, Curious, Consistent and Culture of Love) that he has used to overcome barriers to success in the classroom:
1. Crazy—Every child deserves to have at least one person be crazy about them.
2. Curious—It is not enough for educators to care about their students; they must be curious about their lives outside of school, as well.
3. Consistent—Often times vulnerable youth grow accustomed to inconsistencies from adults in their lives. Principle EL challenges educators to stay consistent, despite the challenges that may occur.
4. Culture of Love—Sometimes the children who need love the most, ask in the most unloving ways. Principal EL also challenges educators to create a culture of love for all students.
Similar stories of triumph were shared from educators from all over the country, highlighting why diversity and representation in teaching is so important.
Dr. Tommy A. Watson, the former principal of Palmer Lake Elementary School in Brookland Park Minn., grew up in Denver, Colo. As a child, both of his parents were addicted to heroin and were professional shoplifters. He also spent a lot of time in foster care and was homeless as a senior in high school. Today, Dr. Watson travels the country sharing his story with at-risk youth, leaving behind a message of hope.
“When I went off to college, my mother was in prison, my father was in prison and my older brother was in prison. My older sister was back in Denver on drugs…I really saw education as my only way out,” Dr. Watson explained, as he detailed his motivation to share the power of education in his life.
Dr. Robert Kirton, the CEO for DNA Educational Solutions and Support also talked about his personal experiences as an adolescent and how he uses those experiences to shape the education policies that he advocates for.
“My thing is going from risk to resiliency. I started off pretty sluggish. I got in trouble all the time while in school. I got a young lady pregnant, while in high school,” Dr. Kirton said. “She left me with the baby; she didn’t see him again until we both graduated from college. He graduated with his bachelor’s and I graduated with my doctorate.”
According to Dr. Kirton’s biography, the educator has a documented success that includes a cumulative graduation rate above 95 percent.
Dr. Kirton’s personal story of risk to resiliency supports his educational approach. His straight-forward, disciplined strategy focuses on ensuring students feel safe and understand the connection between their actions and consequences. His method to “suspend students to school” is a refreshing approach in an educational system that disproportionately suspends and expels Black children.
When asked about the importance of parental engagement, Dr. Kirton answered, “I engage parents as partners…[you have to] bring them into the fold and make them apart of the team.”
Dr. Kirton continued: “When parent participation is not an option, I find a parent-like figure to fulfill that crucial part.”
Learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act and the importance of diversity and inclusion in teaching at nnpa.org/essa.
Lynette Monroe is the program assistant for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign and a master’s student at Howard University. Lynette’s research areas are public policy and national development. Follow Lynette on Twitter @_monroedoctrine.