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Heart of the School Awards announces 2019 winners, honorees

The Heart of the School Awards, which bring together educators, school and city leaders and community members to recognize principals in Baltimore public schools for their dedication and leadership, announced its 2019 winners and honorees Wednesday.

The 10 educators will be honored May 20 at 5:30 p.m. during an event at the Hippodrome Theatre.

heart-of-the-school-awardsWinners and honorees were selected from more than 500 community nominations for 87 principals based on their success creating school communities where students are inspired to learn and grow, teachers are valued, supported and recognized, parents feel welcome and included and student achievement is improving.

Each of the five winners will receive $2,500 and the honorees will get $1,000 to support school needs.

Local comedian Jason Weems, will emcee the event, which will feature tribute to all principals, presentations to recognize winners and honorees and a strolling buffet with food and drink. Tickets are $50 and on sale now. Click here for tickets. The event is free for all principals.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Heart of the School Fund, a year-round program providing grants to principals (nearly $350,000 to date) for projects that improve school culture and student success.

The Heart of the School Awards and Heart of the School Fund are a collaboration of dozens of nonprofits, businesses, individuals and foundations, proudly hosted and managed by the Fund for Educational Excellence.

The Fund for Educational Excellence is a non-profit organization working to access resources, identify and accelerate solutions, and recognize excellence to provide an equitable education for all children in Baltimore City Public Schools.

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2019 Heart of the School Award Winners:

  • Francesca Gamber, Bard High School Early College — Bard’s atmosphere of acceptance and student autonomy starts with Principal Gamber’s encouragement of self-expression while letting students have a say in how their education takes shape – from selecting courses to weighing in on teacher hires. As one of nine Bard High Schools in the country offering students the opportunity to obtain an Associate’s Degree while in high school, Baltimore’s Bard High School Early College is the only one without academic entrance criteria, thereby expanding student access to college level education.
  • Danielle Tillman-Cromartie, Harford Heights Elementary — Tillman-Cromartie’s approach has helped this “turnaround school” – at one point one of the lowest performing in Maryland – shift its school culture and make gains in student scores. She has built community trust after years of high educator turnover while emphasizing the importance of parental engagement. With new after school dance clubs, mentorships, tutoring opportunities and even a new robotics class – more than half of Harford Heights students are involved in an extracurricular activity.
  • Patricia Burrell, North Bend Elementary Middle School — As a daughter of a Baltimore principal, it seems Burrell was destined to become a principal. Her love for the work translates to her students, with North Bend Elementary Middle School feeling like a fun excursion for students with all of their friends. Thanks to Burrell’s emphasis on learning environment, students find curiosity and inspiration in brightly colored hallways filled with beautiful murals and cozy book nooks for reading. Burrell is committed to developing teachers and school leaders, who stay and grow in their roles to help make North Bend’s marked academic growth possible.
  • Charles Kramer, Patterson Park Public Charter School — Under the leadership of Kramer, Patterson Park Public Charter School is a learning organization that seeks and shares what works for students. This approach sets the foundation for long-term student and educator growth. He, his team, and the school community celebrate diversity and educate children, including his own three daughters, as unique individuals. Kramer empowers educators as leaders; four Baltimore City Public School principals began their management careers at Patterson Park and five of his current staff members are pursuing school leadership roles.
  • Zulema Sockwell Moore, William S. Baer School — Sockwell Moore began her career 21 years ago as a teacher at William S. Baer School and has been there ever since. As a school for students with special needs, Sockwell Moore places significant emphasis on empowering children to express themselves and exercise their capacity to make choices. She gives children the opportunity to communicate and make choices at their individual level. Many of her students attend the school from ages 3 to 21, presenting the unique opportunity to work with parents on being advocates for their children. Sockwell Moore views her school, its students, parents and communities as family, and it shows.


2019 Heart of the School Award Honorees:   

  • Cathy Miles, Abbottston Elementary School — Students coming to Abbottston Elementary feel loved, thanks to Miles’ commitment to supporting them with the positivity, focus and resources they need to succeed. Her implementation of arts integration allows students to infuse hands-on creativity into the content they study. In addition, Principal Miles inspires teachers to expand responsibilities that explore school improvements like attendance and family engagement.


  • Diya Hafiz-Slayton, Brehms Lane Public Charter School — The magical, welcoming and celebratory environment found at Brehms Lane Public Charter School begins with Slayton’s passionate and energetic leadership. She emphasizes positive reinforcement to her staff and students, and uses unique motivational techniques to get results – including a Harry Potter-esque “house” system that helps build a sense of community in the school between students and staff.


  • Corey Basmajian, Francis Scott Key Elementary Middle School — Basmajian’s unique ability to communicate with families, students and staff has resulted in significant enrollment increases, academic growth and teacher recruitment and retention at Francis Scott Key Elementary Middle School. Basmajian created the district’s only advanced courses in kindergarten and first grade, with plans to expand those offerings to second and third grade next school year.


  • Jael Samuel, Tench Tilghman Elementary/Middle School — Samuel emphasizes teacher development, and the results over her 10 years at Tench Tilghman reveal talented educators engaging an interested, committed group of students. The school boasts an attendance rate of 96%, one of the best in the district, and students are achieving gains in academic performance. Samuel drove the construction of a playground, making sure it remains open to the neighborhood, solidifying Tench Tilghman as a community hub.


  • Mark Gaither, Wolfe Street Academy — During Gaither’s 14 years as principal, Wolfe Street Academy has risen from 77th to now near the top of city schools on state assessment performance. As a community school, Wolfe Street provides the support that students need to be ready to learn, from medical check-ups, mental health services and dental exams to clothing and supplies. Wolfe Street serves one of the highest percentages of immigrant families in Baltimore, and supporting his students’ families with their unique needs is a hallmark of Gaither’s leadership.


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