Michele and I had the pleasure of attending last Saturday night’s Friendship Public Charter School 2015 Teacher of the Year Annual Awards Gala. As is the custom, the event was held at the elegant JW Marriott Hotel where a formal dinner is proceeded by an hour of drinks and appetizers. It was as a waiter was bringing around the first tray of hors d’oeuvres that I ran into my hero Donald Hense, the CEO and chairman of Friendship PCS. I wanted to know what excited him about this year’s celebration. “We have added two new schools,” the Friendship CEO answered without hesitation. “We now include the Online Academy and Armstrong Elementary. This growth has resulted in Friendship expanding by over 100 teachers. Currently we enroll over 4,200 children in the District of Columbia, and the Friendship Educational Foundation includes two schools in Baltimore and one in Louisiana.” Of course, the Online Academy and Armstrong are the schools Friendship graciously took over after the closure of the Dorothy I. Height Community Academy PCS.
There were many members of the charter movement in attendance. Immediately after talking to Mr. Hense, I approached Kara Kerwin, the president of the Center for Education Reform whom I have interviewed. I wanted to know from Ms. Kerwin about the charter school situation in Seattle now that the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that its funding mechanism was unconstitutional. “We are anticipating,” she commented, “that there will be both legal and legislative challenges to the ruling. There are over 1,200 students currently attending charters there that are in need of school choice so that they can obtain access to good schools.”
It was then time to move to the ballroom for the award ceremony. The space was packed. I think this must have been the largest number of people I have seen at a Teacher of the Year Gala, and the one with the most well dressed participants. Almost all of the men were in black tie and the women’s outfits were perfectly aligned with the high quality of Friendship’s academic offerings. Just like in the past, a well-produced brochure was positioned at each place setting, and Roland Martin, host of News One Now and commentator on the TV One cable network, was the Master of Ceremonies. But the crispness and well thought out pacing brought this event to new heights.
Nominated for the award were Yvonne Tackie, Blow Pierce Campus; Ashlie Monet Frances Dubose, Academy at Calverton; Joscelyn Reed, Chamberlain Campus; Alesha White, Preparatory Academy at Cherry Hill; Celecial Robinson, Collegiate Academy; Claire Holdipp, Southeast Academy; Ashley Smith, Technology Preparatory Academy; and Teoshi Edwards, Woodridge International Campus.
Mr. Hense kicked off the program with the inspiration and directness that defines this man. “This is Friendship’s biggest night of the year besides promotion and graduation. Our job is to have kids graduate and then be successful in college. Tonight we celebrate the finest that is Friendship which is the belief that anything is possible for our scholars. To encourage our children to work hard, we have no choice but to give our children the best that we have to offer each and everyday.”
The Friendship CEO then addressed the new charters that have joined his team this term. “We have named the new elementary school Armstrong because it is on the site of Armstrong High School, the first African American technical training school in the United States. In addition, we now have an on-line institute. A recent newspaper article talked about the increase in home-schooled children in our city, but what the piece failed to mention is that that a great many of those kids are enrolled in our institute.”
Mr. Hense then reviewed the prizes that go along with being nominated as a Teacher of the Year. He informed the guests that each individual receives $5,000, with the finalist being awarded $10,000. Moreover, as has been the custom and in an extremely classy move, Friendship covers state and federal taxes associated with the gifts so that the instructors receive all of the prize money.
Before and after dinner the attendees viewed videos highlighting the work of the finalists. I don’t know if its because its been awhile since I’ve been in a classroom, or due to the superlative work by EFX Media that produced the films, but I didn’t have a dry eye throughout these presentations. I found during the other galas I’ve attended I’ve been able to accurately predict the winner; on this night I had not a clue. I thought each one was a superstar.
In the end, the 2015 Teacher of the Year is Joscelyn Reed, a third grade instructor at Friendship’s Chamberlain Campus. Perhaps reading about the ceremony has not been as an emotional experience as it was for us as being in the room. Maybe that will change when you review Ms. Reed’s statement about how she views her profession.
“Educators have the power to create kind, comfortable, conducive learning environments in our classrooms. For some children, this may be the only time they experience this stability. This sense of security must be established before a book is read, or a lesson is taught. This single step is the foundation upon which I build an environment where students feel comfortable challenging themselves. They know that while I maintain high expectations, I am also there for them as a committed stakeholder in their personal success.”
It was a fantastic evening.