by Shirley A. Brown, ARGUS Society Editor
March is Women’s History Month, a time to recognize the great contributions that women have made to history, culture and society. This article highlights four St. Louis women who have made history in the field of education. Join me in recognizing their leadership and service. In addition, let’s commemorate and encourage the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8th as National Women’s History Week. The U.S. Congress followed suit the next year, passing a resolution establishing a national celebration. Six years later, the National Women’s History Project successfully petitioned Congress to expand the event to the entire month of March. Since 1987, the United States has observed Women’s History Month annually throughout the month of March.
In 2016, Dr. Tiffany Anderson, became the first Black woman to serve as superintendent of the Topeka, Kansas Public Schools, home of the monumental Brown v. Board of Education decision. In addition to her role as superintendent, Dr. Anderson advises Kansas officials on postsecondary policies and on equity policies and legislation. Since she arrived in Topeka, the district has earned four national Magna Awards from the National School Board Association.
Dr. Anderson was recently selected as one of USA-TODAY’S 2022 Women of the Year in recognition of women across the country who have made a significant impact. USA-TODAY named Dr. Anderson the Kansas Woman of the Year andreported that Dr. Anderson still feels the same drive to change other’s lives as she did when she walked into her first elementary school classroom in 1994.
“My job is to teach others and to learn from others,” Anderson said. “To explore new ways of thinking and doing things, I’m still a teacher, but the title is different.”
In 2016 and 2017, national documentaries were created about Dr. Anderson’s work with addressing poverty and transforming communities. She was recognized as one of the top six People with Purpose at the Oscars for her innovative work in education. She also earned national recognition from Education Week as one of the nation’s 16 Leaders to Learn From.
Born and raised in St. Louis, Dr. Anderson is the former Superintendent of the Jennings Public Schools, former principal of Clark School and former teacher of Riverview Gardens (her first teaching job). She is also a former superintendent of the Montgomery County Public Schools in Virginia. Dr. Anderson received her doctorate degree at Saint Louis University.
Karen Kalish is a serial social entrepreneur focused on education transformation, literacy, academic, opportunity and achievement gaps, and ending racial discrimination. She is the founder of Cultural Leadership, founder of Books and Badges, founder of Operation Understanding in DC and founder of Home Works! The Teacher Home Visit Program.
Cultural Leadership is a teen leadership program dedicated to civil rights, social justice and democracy, and how to be activists, advocates and change agents to rid America of racism and all forms of discrimination; Books and Badges partners St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department recruits and other reading partners with St. Louis Public School elementary school students to improve reading and language skills and relations with law enforcement; Operation Understanding (DC), founded in 1993, is a year-long leadership program for high school students that teaches them about their own and each other’s races, religions, cultures and histories.
HOME WORKS! The Teacher Home Visit Program was started in 2007 to partner families and teachers for children’s academic success. The program trains and pays teachers to go to the homes of their students to get families engaged in their children’s education. HOME WORKS! began in a handful of elementary schools, and has since served 116 early childhood, elementary, middle and high schools in urban, suburban, and rural districts in Missouri, including charter schools in St. Louis.
Teachers have made more than 30,000 home visits, primarily to disadvantage families. In March 2020, HOME WORKS! pivoted to Virtual Home Visits to ensure that all students, especially the hard to reach students, had the resources they needed to succeed academically during COVID-19 and beyond.
Karen has served on the Board of Directors of several non-profits from the NAACP to the Jewish Community Center and she has won many awards for her community service. She received an MPS from the Harvard Kennedy School concentrating on African American issues, leadership and nonprofits.
Reverend Dr. Doris Graham has devoted her life to education and serving others. She is the first Black woman elected to serve on the Ferguson-Florissant District School Board. During her tenure of 28 years on the Board, the district twice was recognized as a school district of distinction by the Missouri School Board Association.
During her 38-year career with the St. Louis Public Schools, Dr. Graham was a classroom teacher, remedial reading specialist, co-host of an after-school radio program, administrator during summer school, and assistant principal at Ames Visual and Performing Arts Elementary School for seven years before she retired.
Dr. Graham was elected to the St. Louis Community College Board of Trustees in 2012 and was re-elected in 2018. She has served as chair and co-chair of the Board. She served two years on the Association of Community College Trustees’ Diversity Committee and was instrumental in bringing a Diversity Counsel to STLCC as well as the creation of the position of Director of Diversity and Inclusion.
Dr. Graham is a recipient of many awards including the Lifetime Achiever Award from the St. Louis American’s Salute to Excellence in Education; Salute to Women in Leadership Award from the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis; Phi Delta Kappa Public Recognition Award for community service; the Lifetime Achievement Award from the St. Louis Teachers Union; and the Legacy Award from the St. Louis Argus.
Dr. Graham earned her undergraduate degree from Harris Teachers College (now Harris-Stowe State University). She received her master’s degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and a doctorate at Saint Louis University. She also has a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Aquinas Institute of Theology.
Dr. Latonia Collins Smith was appointed President of Harris-Stowe State University in February. She is the first Black woman to serve as President of the institution. Having served as Interim President since 2021, Dr. Collins Smith has more than 20 years of progressive leadership experience with an extensive background in administration and program development.
Dr. Collins Smith began her career in higher education at Harris-Stowe State University in 2010 as a Project Director in the Office of Counseling Services. She has also served the institution as Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Assistant Provost and as Executive Director of the Center for Career Engagement. Dr. Collins Smith was the co-principal investigator of a $5 million National Science Foundation grant to substantially strengthen STEM in the state of Missouri, the largest grant in the history of Harris-Stowe. She currently serves as a peer reviewer for the Higher Learning Commission, the nation’s largest regional accreditation body.
Dr. Collins Smith serves as chair of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Statewide Celebration Commission of Missouri and board member for the Higher Education Consortium and Greater Sr. Louis, Inc. She is a member of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and the National Association of Colleges and Employers. She is the recipient of several leadership and service awards including the Equal Education Opportunity Group Pioneer Award, the NAACP Excellence in Education Award, and Delux Magazine’s Power 100 in Education Award. She is a 2019 Millennium Leadership Initiative Protégé, a St. Louis Business Diversity Initiative Fellow and a Higher Education Leadership Foundation Fellow.
Dr. Collins Smith received an educational doctorate in higher education from Maryville University. She has a master of social work degree and a master of public health degree from Saint Louis University and a degree from the University of Central Missouri where she majored in social work.
Nominate a Doer: To keep readers informed on who’s who in the community, Shirley A. Brown’s column highlights a community “Doer.” A “Doer” is an individual or organization committed to making St. Louis a and the nation better place to live and work. Readers are invited to send “Doer” recommendations to Ms. Brown. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org.