The 2022 cohort of the St. Louis American Foundation’s Excellence in Education awardees includes educators who believe their work is their calling. They love their student scholars like their own children and regard their colleagues as cherished family members. After two years of lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve emerged as pillars in their schools and anchors in the community, helping to restore stability and rallying colleagues to close learning gaps.
Held in high esteem and deep appreciation by their peers, students and their parents, they’ll be recognized on Saturday, October 1, 2022, at the St. Louis American Foundation’s Milestone 35th anniversary Salute to Excellence in Education Scholarship & Awards Gala at America’s Center.
Leah Crawford, Instructional Coach, Ladue School District
In Leah Crawford’s first year teaching in Ladue, a parent asked for her son to be transferred to another class. She was the only Black teacher in the building. At 32, she felt like a late arrival to the profession, and she struggled to pick up on the culture and curriculum at the school.
However that early experience laid the seeds for growth, Crawford says. Fifteen years later, she’s still teaching in the same school. And she’s settled into her role as an advocate for students and racial equity in the school district. When it comes to doing the right thing for our kids, “we should all be a little uncomfortable,” she says. And while teaching students foundational skills is important, Crawford believes educators are also entrusted with teaching life skills, “so we talk about the racial upheaval happening because many parents don’t know how to talk about it.”
Her colleagues have rallied around her. Crawford was nominated an Excellence in Education award by her fellow teachers in Ladue School District.
Ashley Ellis, Career Coach, Special School District
“Teachers need to be dedicated to survive in education,” said Ashley Ellis. In her 10 years teaching in public and private schools, she’s said the work has gotten more difficult. “Teachers have to have a heart for what you do. You have to be a team player. You might start off the year as a first-grade teacher and you might end up as a fifth-grade teacher, and maybe the secretary too.”
Ellis faced that scenario after a teacher walked off the job—and never returned—in the middle of the school year. In a single day, she went from being the school’s behavioral interventionist to serving as an interim fifth grade teacher. “I appreciate her stepping into that role and she quickly went in and added structure to that class,” said Jade Scott, an administrative assistant who works with Ellis. “I believe she did a wonderful job in that class with the students, she even purchased her own books for them.”
Ellis’ colleagues nominated her for an Excellence in Education Award for the work, love and care she extends to everyone around her. “I’ve seen her give her all to kids and co-workers and whenever staff or children need her, she’s going over and beyond,” said Monica Wright, a teacher who has worked with Ellis in two elementary schools. “That’s just the type of person she is.”
Starlett Frenchie, Principal, Hamilton Elementary
Starlett Frenchie is well known for her chicken noodle soup. And apparently, everyone on her staff at Hamilton Elementary has tasted her delicious meals. “In order to build community with her staff, she cooks for them on a regular basis,” said Dr. Alice Roach, a former colleague and current administrator for the Parsons Blewett Memorial Fund.
Frenchie confirmed her habit of bringing to school an air fryer, several George Foreman Grills and crockpots full of soup for her teachers and staff. “It’s nice to do something to make people feel special and it doesn’t cost a lot.” During her 21 years in education, and 13 years as the principal at Hamilton, Frenchie said she’s learned what it takes to bring people together and make a difference. “You have to be a servant leader and work alongside people, especially at a time when educators are feeling devalued.”
Ashley LeRue Gerald, Behavioral Interventionist, Hazelwood School District
Every student at Lusher Elementary is part of Lusher Loved Ones, a program that matches students with staff members and fun activities every month, so that students feel supported in the school community beyond their classroom teacher. Another group, Lusher Leadership Academy, grooms fourth and fifth graders to be role models.
Both programs were founded by Ashley LeRue Gerald, the school’s behavioral interventionist. She’s worked in education for 15 years, but the last few years have been the most challenging. “There was a need to improve the school’s sense of community and culture and work on leadership skills with students,” Gerald said.
The programs have won Gerald accolades throughout the Hazelwood School District and beyond, and her colleagues nominated her for an Excellence in Education award. However, Gerald said the real award goes to her fellow teachers who make her work possible. “This is not a profession that you do in isolation. Whether it’s a mentor or a team or you’re vertically planning, everyone has something to bring to the table.”
Dr. Brittany Green, Principal, Wyvetter Younge School of Excellence, East St. Louis School District 189
Gordon Bush Elementary was one of the worst performing schools in Illinois before Dr. Brittany Green became principal in 2016. The school had “one of the highest suspension rates in the state for elementary, high staff turnover, low enrollment and attendance, climate and culture issues and academic struggles as it relates to ELA and math,” Dr. Green said.
Under her leadership, the school began a dramatic turnaround. Suspension rates declined to zero from 17-18 percent—and stayed that way for four years. Academics, student behavior and the overall community regard for the school improved. In 2019, the school received a “commendable” designation, the second highest ranking for schools, from the Illinois State Board of Education.
“Dr. Green consistently goes the extra mile to lead her students to success,” said East St. Louis Schools Superintendent Arthur R. Culver. “She is outstanding because of her commitment to excellence, courage to make difficult decisions, compassion for her students, as well as her strong intellectual capacity.”
Dr. Green is now principal of Wyvetter Younge School of Excellence in East St. Louis. She’s also a finalist for the prestigious Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Leadership, an Illinois state teaching award.
Roosevelt Mitchell, Special Education Teacher, Lincoln Middle School, East St. Louis School District 189
Several years ago, a parent at a high school graduation thanked Roosevelt Mitchell for saving her son. “This student was like 21 years old, and he was the first one to graduate in his family,” Mitchell said, “and his mother was crying and she said, ‘If it wasn’t for you, he would have never graduated.’ And that was one of the first times I felt like, wow, I’m really supposed to be in education.”
From the beginning, Mitchell had a knack for connecting with students. As a special education teacher at Lincoln Middle School, he identifies with students who are different. Mitchell was born with seven fingers, and has partial use of his right arm. He embraces his role as an advocate for students with disabilities, and he’s known as “The Disability Scholar” in books, media interviews and on social media. Mitchell is also the author of Kayden is Different, a children’s book about anti-bullying that is used in school districts across the country.
Danny Farmer, Mitchell’s high school basketball coach, is not surprised when he hears about the impact his former student is making in the community. “He was always a smart kid and he understood humble beginnings. We had that in common,” Farmer said. “He understood the kids he worked with and he’s become a great educator.”
Dr. Regina Ware, Facilitator of Education, Hazelwood School District
Dr. Regina Ware is known for treating her students like her own children. From her classroom parties to the tutoring sessions for students during summer break, Dr. Ware, an educator in Hazelwood School District for 26 years, is known for making an impact on the students, staff and school communities she serves.
“As an educator, I called her ‘the mama,’” said Yolander Pittman, a former colleague and current principal of North County Christian School. Pittman recalls many heated academic discussions with Dr. Ware when they worked together. “You had to prove to her that what you’re saying is best for the child, and she doesn’t give in when she thinks something is the best.”
For Dr. Ware, knowing what’s best for a child sometimes means diving beneath the surface to find out what else is going on in their lives. “I can’t teach a child if they are worried about where they’re going to sleep tonight,” she said. “We have to ask questions like ‘what can I do to help you and to help you learn’…before I can reach them in the classroom.”
Linda Wells-Glover, Teaching Professor, School of Social Work, University of Missouri-St. Louis
Students at University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) can expect a rich, immersive experience in Linda Wells-Glover’s Introduction to Diversity classes that includes exposure to activists and presentations from the area’s vibrant social justice movement. “We’ve brought in speakers like STL Action, The Bail Bond Project, and Forward in Ferguson. There’s a lot of passion here in St. Louis and we’ve seen the difference social justice action can make,” she said.
Wells-Glover is now one of the region’s most prominent scholars leading conversations about race, diversity and social justice issues in university classrooms. Her impact resonates across the city—she was the first administrator for Fontbonne University’s multicultural affairs program. She’s also taught at Washington University’s School of Social Work, Webster University and at St. Louis Community College. For Wells-Glover, the roles allow her to pursue her highest calling to teach and mentor students. “It’s a passion that burns deep inside of my soul,” she said. “I take pride in connecting with students, helping them grow from the strengths they have and giving them direction to move forward.”
For tickets and information on the Milestone 35th anniversary Salute to Excellence in Education Scholarship & Awards Gala, visit stlamerican.com. All net proceeds from this annual non-profit (501c3) event go towards scholarships for local, high potential students with financial needs.