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Meet Our Three Golden Apple Principal Finalists

19 April 2024

Leadership matters, and we’re proud to have some of the best school leaders around.

Golden Apple Principals

Leadership matters, and we’re proud to have some of the best school leaders around. Nothing highlights that better than the fact that CPS has three principals who were named finalists for the Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Leadership. 

Get to know Dr. Brian Kelly from King College Prep High School, Angela Tucker from Esmond Elementary School, and Lori Zaimi from Peirce School of International Studies more below. 

Brian Kelly, Ed.D

What first inspired you to pursue a career in school leadership? 

My brother, a school teacher, inspired me to become an educator, but my experience as a student also contributed. I had teachers who cheated me out of a robust school experience growing up. I wanted to get in the classroom and provide students with a different experience than I had. Later on, I took the challenge of becoming the “teacher of teachers,” and I am really beginning to look at the adults I serve as my students. I want to provide them with great learning experiences to motivate and model what I want students to engage in in the classroom.

What keeps you coming back to King year after year? 

The daily interactions with students and the challenge of winning keeps me going every day. I ask myself how I can make a difference for every student who made King their school of choice. I push myself to make those interactions great, whether simply standing at the door greeting everyone as they enter or checking in with people throughout the day to ensure a sense of belonging in Jaguar Country. 

What was your reaction when you learned you were a Golden Apple finalist?

Surprised and excited! This is a testament to how people feel about my leadership in our learning community. KCP is constantly evolving, and there is still a long way to go. I am a sportsperson, and an analogy I love to reference is, “You’re only as good as your last shot.” I love that we keep working to get better together.

What are some of your favorite memories at King? 

All of them; each interaction. I love watching the enrollment grow and watching the community change for the better right before my eyes. I have enjoyed all the endless laughter with our students and the adults here at King. I tell parents that I try to be a familiar face to students because if we are not meeting their social-emotional needs, they will never be prepared for the academic challenges we put before them.

What advice would you give to an aspiring principal?

Be bold and audacious. Learn how to seek to understand, make your moves based on what you observe, and be data-informed instead of data-driven through various lenses. And also, wake up with a purpose and be excited about every day that you get to serve others.

Angela Tucker 

What keeps you coming back to Esmond year after year? 

Since I took over as Esmond's principal in 2005, I have found that the continuous dedication I witness in both the staff and students with their determination to achieve success is the driving force. Their desire to obtain a top-notch education has never been stronger. Every day at Esmond, you will observe students interacting with teachers in a whole group or small group receiving instruction tailored to meet their needs. Simultaneously, you will observe students interacting with teachers, support staff and their peers. My motivation comes from witnessing the various degrees of success or quick wins that our staff and students have attained over time. I come from humble beginnings and a family of educators. I have a moral obligation to ensure all students receive a quality education so they can become productive citizens and obtain gainful employment. 

How has this school year been going? 

It has been a challenging year personally and professionally. At times, it has been a Herculean task to keep going. However, my team and I have been able to move forward with our education programs because we all know and believe in the African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” We lean on the unwavering support of one another. My administrative team takes on a lot of responsibilities and have been able to carry the torch forward on behalf of the students and community we serve. Additionally, I am grateful for the support my learning community receives from Chief Mira Weber and the ISL members of Network 10. Our teachers participate in professional learning opportunities to strengthen their craft to create positive learning experiences for all students. In addition, my assistant principal and I participate in a professional learning community to enhance our skills and knowledge in curriculum,  instruction, and assessments. We are able to examine our work via a variety of perspectives and incorporate new learnings into our school's action plan toward continuous improvements. 

What was your reaction when you learned you were a Golden Apple finalist? 

Towards the end of the workday, I returned to my desk and noticed a particular email. For a minute, I could not breathe. Not only was I honored to be nominated, but I was also touched that someone took the time to accurately depict the history of the Esmond school community. That says a lot, and, for that, I'm truly appreciative. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring principal? 

I always think of the Chinese proverb: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The role of principal can be very challenging, but if you’re passionate about helping others, go for it. Building a solid team and thinking back on your prior experiences are essential for success. The opportunity is fantastic, and the outcomes are outstanding. 

If you could tell your students one thing, what would it be? 

In spite of every obstacle that comes your way, never give up. 

Lori Zaimi

What originally drew you to education?

When I was growing up, I worked as a grocery store cashier. People would come in unable to count their change, and it frustrated me that our education system had failed people so much that they didn’t have the math skills to make sure I wasn’t ripping them off. I always wanted to be a teacher, but that experience confirmed to me that I wanted to be a math teacher specifically. I grew up in poverty myself, and I learned that math is the gatekeeper to economic access.

How would you describe your approach to school leadership?

Student-centered. All of the decisions that we make here have to be in the best interest of kids, while also recognizing that we need to provide the appropriate support for staff and families. All of that feeds into the idea of servant leadership and shared leadership—I am here to serve the community, and I also rely on my team a lot.

What do you want your students to take away from their time at Peirce?

I want them to love their time here. I want them to feel celebrated in who they are as human beings. 

What was your reaction when you learned that you were a Golden Apple finalist?

I was shocked. This has been one of the hardest years for me personally and as a school leader, and this recognition felt really good during a very difficult time.

What is your message to your school community?

I love them. I'm just so thankful that they’ve trusted me to lead this school, and I’m fortunate to be in a community with so much support and love. Our students are incredible, we have amazing parents, and my staff continues to impress me on a daily basis.

We are so proud of all of our Golden Apple finalists. You can read more about our teacher finalists here, here, and here

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