Some thoughts and appreciation for those doing transformational work every single day

October 19, 2021

October is National Principals Month, so we wanted to share some of our appreciation for all they do, as well as showcase some of the transformational principals out there who continue to elevate their profession.

October might be their month, but being a principal is a year-round job working with students, families and communities to make things better.  So if you know a principal, take a moment to say hello and thank them for what they do.

And thank you from everyone at Accelerate Institute—we continue to be impressed by all that you do.

First, let’s hear from some of the Accelerate Institute staff:


Jamar Beyonu

Director of Partnerships

In our ongoing efforts to develop transformational school leaders, Jamar Beyonu, Director of Partnerships here at Accelerate Institute, plays a pivotal role in helping to identify our future partner principals.

“An educator can be simultaneously inspired by the opportunity to affect our children’s development and daunted by the lack of resources and effective policies in place,” Jamar says. “Deciding to lead within a space like that—where your mind and heart are constantly called upon—is something that I have the utmost respect for!”


Alexis Jenkins

Operations Associate

Accelerate Institute’s Finance and Operations Associate Alexis Jenkins knows that a truly transformational school leader wears many hats on the job. There’s no limit to the lengths they’ll go to help make a difference!

“I appreciate principals for their adaptability and willingness to go above and beyond to serve their communities,” Alexis says. “From budgets to community relations, curriculum and professional development, and parent and staff concerns—their job description knows no bounds.”


Erin Slack

Senior Director of Curriculum and Assessment

Erin Slack, Senior Director of Curriculum and Assessment at Accelerate Institute, has a tremendous amount of respect for principals. As a former principal herself, she knows firsthand how they have the capability to impact hundreds of students, family members, and staff!

“My appreciation for school principals runs deep because principals are true warriors for the schools and communities they serve,” Erin says. “Principals set the tone for the entire building, using great vigor to ensure everyone's needs are met while also maintaining focus on instructional priorities.”

Now let's look at just a few of today’s leaders who are making an impact today and every day:


Joán Álvarez

Principal, IDEA McAllen
(McAllen, TX)

Joán Álvarez is a truly inspirational school leader who won the 2019 Ryan Award during his time as principal of IDEA McAllen College Prep in McAllen, Texas.

In an incredible show of his commitment to his students and their future, Joán pledged his entire $25,000 honorarium to funding graduating seniors’ college education.

We appreciate you, Joán!

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Kimberly Smith Eason

Principal, Middle College High School
(Memphis, TN)

Principal Eason of Middle College High School in Memphis is committed to “absolute excellence” to ignite a world of possibility for her students.

To that point: 93% of her senior class was just afforded FULL scholarships to Tennessee State University, and it’s clear to see the efforts of her and her team are paying off. 

In addition to that, Kimberly Smith Eason has received some other awesome news as of late.

Check out these incredible stats out of Middle College High School:

  • Top average composite ACT score in Shelby County Schools (22.9)

  • SCS’s only reward status school for the 2021-2022 year

  • SCS’s only school that calculated an “A” grade for the 2021-2022 year

  • One of only two Shelby County Schools to calculate a TVAAS 5 rating



Lindsey Girard

Principal, CICS Loomis-Longwood (K-5)

We'd be remiss if we didn't take a moment to highlight our important partnership with the Chicago International Charter School principals and network team.

With their shared commitment to “synergy,” Principals Lindsey Girard, Maria Freeman, Tyson Daniel, JW Kuebler, and Allison Sussna produce a combined effect greater than the sum of its parts.

Here at Accelerate, we continue to deepen our partnership with CICS because we are like-minded organizations who believe deeply in the value of our work.

With gratitude, CICS team.


Andi Hernandez

Founding Principal, Navigator Schools - Watsonville Prep School
(Watsonville, CA)

Let’s all show our appreciation for Andi Hernandez, principal of Watsonville Prep in Watsonville, California!

Through her commitment to “absolute excellence,” Andi is continuously working to improve her school based on what works, grounded in data. She holds herself and her leadership team to high standards, with a delicate balance between support and accountability.

Andi and her team are currently working relentlessly to achieve their goal that 100% of students will be reading on grade level by third grade.

Keep up the great work, Principal Hernandez.


Gretchen Larsen

Executive Director, Explore Academy 
(Las Vegas)

There are few greater examples of transformational school leadership than Gretchen Larsen, executive director of Explore Academy in Las Vegas.

As someone who opened a new school during the middle of a pandemic, Gretchen knows a thing or two about how difficult this work is. But she also has an incredible commitment to “gratitude.”

No matter how hard things get, Gretchen truly finds joy and appreciation for the entire community that has supported Explore Academy during these unprecedented times.

Thank you for your ongoing dedication, Gretchen.


Patrick Love

Principal, Alain Locke Charter School

At our Accelerate Institute affiliated school, we are thankful for the incredible Principal Love each and every day. For a decade, Principal Love has consistently placed the futures of our students in East Garfield Park above all else. Not even a pandemic could slow him down!

Thank you for all that you do, Principal Love.

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Kelly Smith

Principal, Acero - Victoria Soto High School

Kelly’s unwavering commitment to “students first” is apparent by the group of students that’s constantly hovering around her office to interact with her at Acero - Victoria Soto High School.

With the important question, “How will this decision impact my students?” influencing every choice she makes for her school community, it’s no wonder she was named Acero Principal of the Year. 

Thank you, Principal Smith.


Lindsey Robinson

Associate Managing Director, ReGeneration Schools

Lindsey Robinson was presented with the 2019 Ryan Award in recognition of her outstanding leadership as elementary principal at Chicago International Charter School - Avalon.

During her time as principal, CICS Avalon performed second-best among all Illinois K-8 schools predominantly serving African-American and low-income students. Her students also exceeded city and state averages on PARCC math and reading exams.

Keep up the incredible work, Lindsey!


Alexa Sorden

Principal, Concourse Village Elementary School 
(Bronx, NY)

Alexa Sorden, who founded Concourse Village Elementary School in the Bronx eight years ago, is a 2017 Ryan Award winner.

As principal of Concourse Village, Alexa demonstrates a strong belief in the potential of her students each and every day. She was selected for the Ryan Award after her students posted 14 and 35 percentage point gains in math and English and language arts proficiency rates, respectively.

Outstanding work, Alexa!

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Jasmine Thurmond

Principal, King Academy for Social Justice

With her resolute commitment to “equity and inclusion,” Jasmine Thurmond, principal of King Academy for Social Justice in Chicago, demonstrates how to value all dimensions of diversity in order to achieve the fairness and justice that we all want to see in the world.

Her deep respect for the personal histories that all community members bring to the table helps to foster a strong sense of belonging for all King Academy students, families, and staff.

Thank you, Principal Thurmond, for always modeling the way.

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