Seven principals received the annual Lindback Award Tuesday night at the Prince Theater, after city officials and the first lady of Pennsylvania heaped praise on their work, and spoke about the importance of bringing more resources into the District.
Each of the seven principals who won, chosen from 47 nominated by their school communities, was given a $20,000 stipend from the Lindback Foundation to spend in their school as they see fit.
A video about the winners can be viewed by clicking on the image at the top of this article.
During the event, Superintendent William Hite joked about the informal title for his job: the worst job in the city.
After a rousing performance of “Joyful Joyful,” sung by students at the Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School, Hite said “what you just saw on this stage is why I have one of the best and most important jobs in Philadelphia.”
Turning to the principals sitting in the audience, he said “your leadership and dedication have shaped you into distinguished school leaders who are so deserving of this honor. Thank you.”
Frances Wolf, wife of the governor, told the audience that she feels pride in having sent her two daughters to public schools. She said no one had a bigger influence in their lives than their teachers, and especially their principals: “You make the difference. You set the tone. You create the culture and expectations for students and teachers to perform at the best of their abilities.”
“Pennsylvania took a step in the wrong direction in trying to balance the state budget on the backs of our schools and that is not acceptable; it’s not right,” Wolf said to thunderous applause, referring to the education budget cuts under Republican Gov. Tom Corbett — money her husband has been gradually trying to restore. “In order to build and create and sustain strong communities and successful businesses and a vibrant economy here in Pennsylvania, we absolutely must invest in our schools and our educational systems.”
“Education is the key to Philadelphia moving away from having the highest poverty rate of America’s largest cities,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “If we can continue to attract and develop extraordinary principals like the ones we have here tonight, I’m confident in our success.”
The mayor ended by echoing Wolf’s sentiment, saying something that few people know better than principals.
“No matter how struggling a neighborhood is — every single one of our kids can succeed,” Kenney said. “They can do anything they want to do if we, as the adults, have the maturity and the decency to give them the resources they need.”
The mayor said the city should continue to give “resources to supplement what our superintendent is doing.”
“Those who know Mayor Kenney know that he can be a very stubborn person,” said School Reform Commission chair Joyce Wilkerson, causing the laughing mayor to blush and put his hands over his face. “But he’s nowhere more committed and more stubborn than when it comes to bringing resources to support public education in Philadelphia.”
Wilkerson thanked the superintendent for making a long-term commitment to the District. Hite is in his fifth school year as superintendent, when the average tenure for superintendents of large cities is between three and four years.
“Principals bring a very profound commitment,” Wilkerson said. “They lead by example. They build trusting relationships with their staff, parents, and community members… I want to personally thank each of you for your commitment, your passion, and all the enormous energy you bring to your work.”
And the winners are...
The first honored was Joanne Beaver, principal of the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) — whose students closed out the ceremony by performing a number from the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” which prompted a standing ovation.
Beaver, a graduate of Northeast High School, has been principal at CAPA for three years. She lead a successful initiative to increase attendance and reduce lateness. She also worked with the CAPA Foundation to modernize the school’s computers.
“She gets things done,” said Allen Morris, a senior at CAPA. “One of the things she’s done for me is put my name, in advance, on applications that I didn’t even know about and come to me to help.”
She will spend the $20,000 upgrading CAPA’s theater, particularly the out-of-date sound system.
The next honoree was Simon Hauger, principal of the Workshop School in west Philadelphia — one of the District’s new Innovation Schools, or project-based high schools that accept students based on a lottery, often with a preference for those residing in the neighborhood.
Hauger has worked in public education in the city in some capacity for 20 years. His name first made headlines when the “Hybrid X Team” that he started at West Philadelphia High School built a hybrid car that won enough competitions to get his students invited to the White House in 2010. He expanded the program and continued it at his Workshop school. In 2014 his students were again invited to the White House to showcase their car.
These experiences influenced the philosophy of the Workshop School, which is based on getting students to identify problems in their own communities and to design, and even implement, solutions to those problems.
“Mr. Hauger is like family to me,” said Drina Davis, an 11th grader at the Workshop School. “I was going through a lot this year: my grandmom passed away — me being in foster care — and he helped me a lot… he makes us feel like we can do it even when we feel like we can’t.”
Hauger plans to spend his stipend on technology his teachers need to facilitate project-based learning.
Jeannine Payne, a graduate of Central High School, is the principal of Richard R. Wright Elementary in north Philadelphia.
She began work in the District as a biology teacher at Strawberry Mansion High School, where she worked alongside her father, who also taught there, in the same neighborhood where she is now a principal. She went on to serve as an assistant principal at Frankford High School and a principal at Edward Gideon Elementary.
One of Payne’s focuses at Wright is coping with problems that stem from over three-quarters of her students living in poverty. She moved the school’s breakfast program to the classroom to ensure more students get a chance to eat in the morning. She built community partnerships and created events for parents like family dinners, and giveaways for essentials such as coats and books.
She also started a program that brings actors from the Arden Theatre into Wright to teach students, and brings students to the Arden Theatre to see a performance.
"It’s already meaningful enough when people recognize you as leader; principal; individual,” Payne said in a video. “But it’s really meaningful for this award because no matter how accomplished you or one other person may think you are… you can’t even apply unless you have the support of members of your school community. So yes it’s an individual award, but it’s awarded to the team.”
Payne plans to use her stipend to provide more professional development options for her teachers.
Guy Lowery, another graduate of Northeast High School, is principal of Mayfair. Before serving as principal, he was a science teacher, special education lead, and assistant principal.
A K-8 school located in the northeast, Mayfair is one of the city’s largest schools with a population of over 1,400 students that grows each year. The school has suffered from overcrowding since before Lowery became principal, forcing several classrooms into outdoor trailers.
Lowery has worked with the District to design an expansion for the school, being built this summer, that will allow students to move back into typical classrooms. He also successfully advocated for investments in new lighting, and electrical outlets that allow the school to run laptop carts and smart boards.
“No challenge is too great,” said Corrinne Scioli, the assistant principal at Mayfair. “If there is a way — he finds it. He sees all the various channels to make things work.”
Lowery plans to use the stipend to further bridge the digital divide by replacing out-of-date classroom technology.
Andrew Lukov, principal of Southwark — a K-8 community school in south Philadelphia — got his start as an ESL teacher at Jackson Elementary and South Philadelphia High School before working as assistant principal at Northeast High School for five years.
In the dozen years before Lukov became principal, Southwark had seven principals. Lukov is in his fourth year as principal.
At Southwark, Lukov created Southwark’s Two-Way Immersion Bilingual Program and introduced elective classes for middle school students. He also expanded the school’s emotional support program.
He plans to use the $20,000 stipend to buy more books and technology for the school’s library.
Dr. Crystle Roye-Gill is the principal of Holme Elementary in northeast Philadelphia. She grew up attending the city’s public schools, where she participated in the District One Orchestra every year until graduating from West Philadelphia High School.
At Holme, Roye-Gill integrated creative and performing arts into the curriculum.
“I know [the award] could have gone to anybody — we put a great deal of effort and time into what we want to see come to fruition,” Roye-Gill said in a video. “I’m excited for the school because of what the extra money can do.”
She plans to use the money to further her goal of creating an arts elementary school. Holme will get a piano lab with keyboards, a new dance room equipped with full mirrors and work-out bars, and an upgraded computer lab to teach graphic design classes.
Christopher Johnson is the founding principal of Science Leadership Academy at Beeber, which opened in 2012. But he got his start working as a substitute teacher, and later taught in elementary, middle and high schools. He’s since worked as a regional office director, assistant principal and deputy of climate, culture and safety.
Johnson spoke at the event.
“We don’t have a normal main office. What I mean is: we don’t have that border between parents and staff,” Johnson said. “If we’re going to have a community school we thought our doors should be open.”
“We have some students now who come into the office all the time and they provide us with information,” Johnson said, to cheers from the corner of the auditorium where some of his students and teachers sat. “Ninety-nine percent of the data that we need is in our classroom, which means asking students what their needs are and providing support.”
“He is very involved with the student environment,” said Alexis Nao, a senior at SLA Beeber, said in a video. “He’s really there for students.”
Johnson said that dealing with his staff is not very different.
“I ask a lot of our staff, and our staff have been the lifesaver of our school. They work 10 or 11 hours every day. Most of them work Saturdays, and some even work holidays,” Johnson said. “We never had the money to give staff [extra-curricular] time. Every last penny of this $20,000 is going to our staff for the [extra-curricular] time that they deserve and have not gotten for over three years.”
His voice was lost among applause from every corner of the auditorium.