This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Sixty Philadelphia School District teachers and seven principals have received coveted awards from the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation, which honors educators each year during National Teacher Appreciation Week.
The principals’ award recognizes distinguished principal leadership and humanitarian contributions to schools and communities, and the teachers’ award honors educators for promoting learning at the highest levels.
Usually, the winners in each category are celebrated at gala events. This year, of course, that is not possible.
Superintendent William Hite noted that the awardees “are continuing to support our students and families during this difficult time through digital learning.”
Principal Leslie Mason of Mifflin Elementary School, one of the winners, explained how she is keeping education and spirit alive in the virtual world.
“I’m so proud of my teachers,” she said. “It’s been really hard,” while at the same time having its notable moments.
“I had a kindergarten teacher send me a picture of a Google Meet, with all the kids writing things down,” she said.
Some teachers invite her to their digital classrooms. “They want me to come at the end of the lessons, because otherwise if I come, they stop working,” she said.
“I don’t know what turnout from other schools has been, but my kids are coming, and that speaks volumes about our community.”
She got to watch a 5th-grade science presentation on the planets, where the students commented on each others’ work. “My kids know to lead with something positive, and that was wonderful,” she said.
Mifflin has been in the news lately as a result of a neighborhood campaign to prevent a charter school from locating a campus in its East Falls neighborhood. Community members made the point that the District should concentrate its support on making the local District school the best it can be.
Mifflin, like a number of schools in the District, is located in a majority white community with an enrollment that is primarily African American. In East Falls’ case, many of the students live in the Abbottsford Homes, a Philadelphia Housing Authority complex located near the colonials and soaring townhomes on and around Midvale Avenue.
Leading a school in such a situation can be a delicate proposition, as neighborhood and racial tensions can flare. Mason has navigated that world for 11 years.
“My first three years, I had to do a lot of healing,” she said.
Under her leadership, Mifflin has attracted more local white and middle-class families, in some cases breaking generational habits of attending Catholic, private, and more recently, charter schools.
When the local Catholic school, St. Bridget’s, closed several years ago, some families moved their children to Mifflin, and most of them stayed, she said.
Enrollment has grown to the point where she is adding teachers, including one in the 6th grade. She helped raise money to install a full piano lab, a guitar lab, and a “maker space,” all attractive to families.
“We’ve been growing academically in many ways we didn’t expect to,” she said.
State and local test scores show that nearly all her students are making progress.
“I’m actually disappointed we don’t have testing this year; we are in such a high and good place,” she said.
Mason, who was on her way to go for a bike ride when reached for a phone interview after a long day of checking in on classes and communicating with teachers, said this had been the fourth time she was nominated for the Lindback. She said she was grateful for letters of support that poured in from parents and community members.
“I didn’t get to read them but I know they were from parents, my most important stakeholder, my students and my families, which I really appreciate,” she said.
She added, however, that the virus has begun to impact some families, and she can tell some of the students are scared. “My counselors do check-ins with them,” she said.
Given annually by the Lindback Foundation since 2008, the award for teachers includes a $3,500 stipend. The award for principals was established in 2011 and is accompanied by a $20,000 stipend for the principals to use to improve their school communities.
Of the winners of the Principals Award, Lindback Foundation trustee Sheldon M. Bonovitz said in a statement: “These principals have shown extraordinary dedication, leadership, and empathy in leading their respective schools in these most challenging times.”
Trustee David Loder said that the foundation is “proud to recognize the excellence, dedication, and commitment of our teachers … who will help shape the future of Philadelphia.”
Mayor Kenney noted that great teachers and principals fill several roles: “They’re not only content experts and administrators; they’re role models, leaders, and mentors. The power of a strong school community with dedicated staff has never been clearer than in recent weeks, when our schools have moved online and our teachers and principals have adapted quickly to support students during an uncertain time.”
The full list of award winners is as follows:
2020 PRINCIPAL HONOREES: Siouda Douglas, A.S. Jenks Elementary School; Tamara Edwards, Thomas K. Finletter Elementary School; Leslie Mason, Thomas Mifflin Elementary School; James Murray, William Rowen Elementary School; Anh Nguyen, Parkway Center City Middle College High School; Shakeera Warthen, Amedee F. Bregy Elementary School; and Barbara Wells, Pennypack House School.
2020 TEACHER HONOREES: Danina Garcia-Fuller, Vaux Big Picture High School; Kimberly Nolan, Solis-Cohen Elementary School; Jennifer McKenzie, Henry H. Houston Elementary School; Christopher Angelini, Crossroads Accelerated Academy; Damali Best, Penrose Elementary School; Brittany Jakubowski, Nebinger Elementary School; Victoria Erickson, Kensington High School; Catherine Fredericks, Moffet Elementary School; Clarice Brazas, the U School.
Cory Perewiznyk, Philadelphia Military Academy High School; Erin Giorgio, Science Leadership Academy; Terese Gallen, Swenson Arts & Technology High School; Judy Starr, Joseph J. Greenberg Elementary School; Gregory Smith, W.B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences; Gregory Mirakian, Jay Cooke Elementary School; Colleen Hanna, Horace Furness High School; Erin Hoeffel, Watson T. Comly Elementary School; Jennifer Pettinelli, South Philadelphia High School.
Jenifer Felix, Kensington Health Sciences Academy; Jessica Friedman, Pennypack House School; Christine Jordan, Anne Frank Elementary School; Rosemaria Kalogerakis, Roxborough High School; Karen Carrigan, Fox Chase Elementary School; Kathryn Harris, Olney Elementary School; Katie Ryan, Andrew Jackson Elementary School; Keziah Ridgeway, Northeast High School; Kristen Peeples, Kensington Creative & Performing Arts High School; Lorna Schwartz, H.A. Brown Elementary School.
Lori Petrozino, Horatio B. Hackett School; Laura Vu, Potter-Thomas Elementary School; Leah Pearson, Overbrook High School; Carol Graham, A.S. Jenks School; Michael Rocco, William C. Longstreth Elementary School; Malvin Carrion, Samuel Fels High School; Rajitha Maley, John Bartram High School; Marina Isakowitz, The Workshop School; Maritza Gonzalez, Philadelphia Learning Academy North; Mary Connaghan, Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber.
Meredith Schecter, Charles W. Henry Elementary School; Robin Mixon, William W. Bodine High School for International Affairs; Walter Myrick, AMY Northwest School; Peter Metcalfe, Eliza B. Kirkbride Elementary School; Luke Prendergast, Jules E. Mastbaum High School; Qiana Pray, Academy at Palumbo; Rachel Rodríguez, Central High School; Sharon Renz, Girard Academic Music Program; Robert Goral, Potter-Thomas Elementary School; Robert Rivera-Amezola, Francis Scott Key Elementary School.
Robert Signs, Constitution High School; Thorayya Saber, Lankenau Environmental Science Magnet High School; Sally Wojcik, Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush; Selina Carrera, Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Service Center School; Sharon McKnight, School of the Future; Stacy Schwab, John Hancock Demonstration Elementary School; Steven Gilligan, Julia R. Masterman Laboratory & Demonstration School; Tanya Guy, G.W. Childs Elementary School; Delilah Baines-Washington, Francis Scott Key Elementary School; Tracy Parente, Baldi Middle, Central High, Holme Elementary, Finletter Elementary, Franklin (K-8) and FitzPatrick Elementary Schools; Paul Wagenhoffer, G.W. Carver Engineering & Science High School; and Wendy Gartside, Conwell Middle School.
More information about the Lindback Foundation can be found at lindbackfoundation.org.