By Rachele Viard
On Nov. 20, Haitian-American Assistant Principal Princess Francois was awarded the Milken Educator Award by Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley and New York State Department of Education Office of Higher Education P-20 Policy Coordinator and Strategic Planning Senior Advisor Allison Armour-Garb.
Francois was not only named the 2019-20 recipient of the national recognition, she also received an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. She is the only Milken Educator Award winner from New York this year, and is among around 40 honorees for 2019-20.
“I’m here because I look like the students, I came from the community of those students and I want to be that role model for them, and so I think even if I’m just able to inspire one student, let alone hundreds of students during a lifetime, then I know I’ve done my job,” Francois said.
Teaching and instilling high school students to love math and science, is just one part of solving the complex equation of learning for Francois at the Math, Engineering and Science Academy (MESA) charter school in Brooklyn, NY. Assistant Principal Francois also teaches the teachers, offering personalized coaching for educators that prioritizes high-leverage learning principles. As a result, their students’ chemistry and math scores are way up on statewide testing during Francois’ tenure.
Francois, daughter of Haitian immigrants, is the assistant principal at a school with many students from similar backgrounds, Francois is a role model and inspiration for students as well as teachers interested in propelling STEM education to the next level.
“Princess Francois understands the value of a STEM education,” said Foley. “By working to help students advance themselves and their communities, Francois opens the door to a brighter future. Her uplifting vision and strategic work is the kind of inspirational leadership we seek, and we’re proud to welcome her as a Milken Educator.”
“Assistant Principal Francois has a powerful positive influence on her students, colleagues, and the school community at MESA,” said Armour-Garb. “Francois’ leadership reinforces a college-going culture, to make educational equity a reality for MESA’s diverse students.”
The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching” has been opening minds and shaping futures for over 30 years. Research shows teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement. The initiative not only aims to reward great teachers, but to celebrate, elevate and activate those innovators in the classroom who are guiding America’s next generation of leaders. Milken Educators believe, “The future belongs to the educated.”
Francois embodies what the Milken educators and stand for and believe as she has been extremely innovative and forged forward to ensure the success of both students and teachers at MESA. The assistant principal initiated a school-wide vertical alignment process, helped reorganize professional development efforts and analyzes data to support at-risk students and struggling teachers. When she taught Algebra Remediation at MESA, 11 of her 17 students passed the New York State Regents Exam at the end of the year; in earth science, Regents pass rates rose 14 percent . Under her supervision, Regents pass rates have risen 20 percent for algebra II (the highest level of math at MESA) and 17 percent for chemistry.
Francois takes the lead on cultural initiatives at MESA. Her focus on school-wide diversity and equity prompted the creation of the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, which works to ensure all groups feel celebrated and accepted. Francois helped revamp Black History Month at MESA, turning a one-day assembly into a month-long celebration with food, music, educational workshops and group conversations about race. She insists on a college-bound culture at MESA, arranging visits to college campuses and encouraging students to reach beyond their comfort zones to apply for summer programs both within the U.S. and beyond.
As a Haitian American, Francois grew up in the same community that MESA serves, with a large West Indian population and a mix of other cultures. Students see her as an example of what they can accomplish regardless of their socioeconomic background. Former students talk about her lasting impact, crediting her with their increased confidence, love of science and decisions to pursue careers in STEM fields. Teachers see Francois as not just a coach but a mentor.
Francois earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Columbia University in 2011, a master’s degree in adolescent special education from Hunter College in 2013 and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the Bank Street Graduate School of Education in 2015.
As the new Milken Educator Award winner, Francois will continue to forge bold new paths to further STEM education in a non-traditional environment.