Leslie Thomas-Washington worked in the Webster Groves School District before relocating with her husband to New Orleans, Louisiana, where she worked for several years in various capacities, as a classroom teacher, a school literacy facilitator, and as a reading intervention teacher. Then Hurricane Katrina intervened and disrupted many lives. Thomas-Washington and her family lost their home, and they made the decision to move back to St. Louis, where she was hired by the Ferguson-Florissant School District.
She began her work in the district as a Reading First coach at Walnut Grove Elementary in 2006. She dedicated herself to helping students with their reading comprehension and literacy development. Her hard work did not go unnoticed. After one year, she was promoted, then she served two years as an assistant principal at Wedgewood Elementary. In 2009, she became principal of Vogt Elementary in Ferguson.
When Thomas-Washington started at Vogt, the school’s students were struggling with math and reading proficiency. Their Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) scores and Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) scores had fallen below state requirements. However, under the leadership of Thomas-Washington, the school was able to make huge strides in closing the achievement gap, and by 2013 the school earned 100 percent on its MAP testing scores.
“Under the leadership of Principal Leslie Thomas-Washington, Vogt students, staff and stakeholders exhibit excellence and equity in education every day,” Art McCoy Jr., then the district superintendent, told The American. McCoy’s nomination earned Vogt the “Monsanto School of Excellence” award in 2013 from the St. Louis American Foundation.
“Through programming and collective work with the staff, we were able to address the problems we were having and make tremendous gains,” Thomas-Washington said.
Positive community partnerships also helped achieve these gains. Thomas-Washington made it a priority to partner with organizations that shared similar ideas about education and student achievement, including KidSmart, the St. Louis Chapter of Links, the St. Louis Science Center and the Ferguson Kiwanis Club. The Girl Scouts of America recently started a Robotics team in Vogt. They work to inspire girls to try new things and to promote an interest in STEM. In addition, the St. Louis Chess Club has also volunteered time and resources to teach the students chess, as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
“I believe in extending learning beyond the classroom through developing community partnerships,” she said. “These partnerships inspire and expose students, which ultimately impacts student achievement and helps students be successful and well-rounded.”
Vogt is currently ranked fourth overall in the Ferguson-Florissant School District. It holds an Academic Progress Rating of 87.9 percent.
Apart from programming and curriculum, Thomas-Washington is also committed to creating a positive learning environment for all students. The staff at Vogt Elementary work diligently to create behavior expectations and relationships with students that promote a culture of kindness.
“When students feel loved and cared for, they are truly able to rise to any occasion,” she said. “All students can be successful if they have the desire and they are taught well.”
For the last seven years, Vogt Elementary was the recipient of the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) Award of Excellence. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education awards this honor to schools that are committed to an atmosphere of learning “that supports students to make positive choices both academically and behaviorally.”
Thomas-Washington earned a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Maryville University, a master’s in Educational Administration as well as a bachelor’s in Science from Fisk University.
Thomas-Washington received personal recognition from KidSmart this year during Women’s History Month for leadership.
“I absolutely love what I do, and I just always try my best to support teachers and students,” Thomas-Washington said. “I feel the greatest joy when they are successful.”