2019 Salute to Excellence in Education Awardees

Petra Baker, Tina Clark-Scott, Monica D. Diggs, Ed.D., Victoria A. Harris, Kimberly Patrice Long, Duane McGowan, Lawrence Shields, Tanesia L. Simmons

The St. Louis American Foundation will honor eight outstanding educators from area schools as awardees at the 2019 Salute to Excellence in Education on Saturday, September 21 at the America's Center Ballroom.

Petra Baker is the principal at Gateway Michael in Saint Louis Public Schools, which serves students with medical challenges, from preschool to eighth grade. Described as a professional and an advocate with compassion for students and their families, Baker always wanted to be a teacher, and said God gifted her with an ear that hears the hearts of children. “Children matter, regardless of their circumstances,” Baker said.  “I have the same expectations of my students as other principals. I teach my students that it’s okay to be different and to embrace their differences.” Baker has been involved in special education for nearly 30 years.

Tina Clark-Scott is assistant superintendent of Curriculum for Normandy Schools Collaborative. The staff member who nominated Clark-Scott emphasized “her willingness to take on difficult projects, like feeding under privileged families and kids through her church. She gives so much of herself to children and adults.” Remarkably, she even took custody of three troubled students who attended her school when they were directed to Child Protective Services. “She projects a warm, cheerful attitude to our students, teachers and parents outside of school,” this staff member said. “I have seen her resolve conflicts and handle other difficult situations with remarkable patience and admirable tact.”

Monica D. Diggs, Ed.D, is a 6th grade English Language Arts teacher at Hazelwood North Middle School, where she provides interventions to help improve reading skills. “If the students can’t read, then they struggle with the grade-level curriculum,” she said. Diggs previously worked in Saint Louis Public Schools, Special School District and Riverview Gardens School District. Her late pastor, Charles M. Roach, had the greatest impact on Diggs becoming an educator. He told her that the best way to teach children is to build relationships with them. “Once students know that you care,” she said, “you can teach them anything.” 

Victoria A. Harris is director of Career Engagement and Experiential Learning at Harris-Stowe State University, where she is as a liaison who connects scholars, faculty and employers to professional development opportunities, such as career and graduate fairs, individual appointments, class presentations, mock interviews, professional attire and presentation. Harris said it is imperative to be personable and have compassion for students, because people remember how you made them feel. “When I think about the professors that came before me,” she said, “I want to be able to inspire and help students navigate their college careers.” 

Kimberly Patrice Long is the assistant principal at Nottingham Community Access and Job Training (CAJT) High School, a school-to-work program for students with developmental delays. “Despite the many challenges they encounter, they come to school ready to learn and ready to be the best person they can be,” she said. Last year, the school made gains in attendance, student management, academics through the use of technology, onsite work experience, and over 90 percent of its graduating class is registered with Vocational Rehabilitation for post-secondary placement. In the spring, Long was also named the SLPS 2019 Secondary Principal of the Year.

Duane McGowan is chair of the Career Technical Education Academy and the construction trades teacher at East St. Louis Senior High School. His focus is providing students with industry-approved credentials available in technical education. He leads a team of 11, who provide training to students in audio video production, auto mechanics, business, construction, cosmetology, culinary arts, electrical, health care and welding. In his career, McGowan said he was trained, mentored and taught by some incredibly smart and enthusiastic teachers/leaders.  “I took up their mantle and continued helping others,” he said, “reach their goals for education and training initiatives.”

Lawerence Shields is the coordinator of Webster Academy alternative programs at Webster Groves High School, where he is responsible for six programs, three of which are new. In his goal to be the best alternative education teacher he can be, Shields said, “I realize there is a need for this position, and many people need to understand what alternative education is. I would like to champion that.” Previously, Shields was an Alternative School supervisor in Hazelwood. “I learned how to develop alternative education programs and implement them,” Shields said. “I also learned how to be a leader in an educational environment.” 

Tanesia L. Simmons is co-founder and school leader of KIPP St. Louis High School, where she is responsible for Instructional Leadership as well and supporting school culture and school operations, including “making sure that our teachers receive the support they need to effectively educate our scholars and that our scholars feel safe and supported.” Previously, Simmons was on the founding team of a Chicago charter school and served in many capacities,. “I know, and have felt, the impact that leadership decisions have on those who don't often get to weigh in,” she said. “Having this array of experience has helped guide me to always keep students first.”

The 2019 Salute to Excellence in Education Gala will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, September 21, 2019 at the America's Center Ballroom, following a reception at 5 p.m. Tickets are on sale now. Individual tickets are $100 each/$1,000 table and VIP/Corporate tickets are $1,500 table. For more information or to purchase tickets,click here or call 314-533-8000.

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