BUSHWICK — It was a surprise of a lifetime for an assistant principal who grew up in Prospect Heights.
Assistant Principal Princess Francois at the Math, Engineering and Science Academy (MESA), 231 Palmetto St. in Bushwick, who had no idea she was being honored, received a $25,000 Milken Educator Award during a ceremony at the school. She was the only recipient in New York this season.
The award aims to reward great teachers and celebrate classroom innovators who are guiding America’s next generation of leaders.
“I came into work thinking we are having a special assembly,” Francois told this paper about the event on Wednesday, Nov. 20. “I’m thinking that we were honoring the school for something. I see all these important people show up and as an assistant principal, I’m just concerned about how the day is going to go because we have exams going on.”
There was a performance by the school’s dance team and a speech from a representative of the charter center. A woman representing the Milken Award, who was also one of its first recipients, spoke as well. Then, the announcement was made that Francois was being honored.
“Hearing my name and seeing a banner unveiled, I think I was in shock in front of the whole school,” she said.
There were plenty of hugs and cheers from teachers and students.
“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,” said Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley, who presented the award.
“Francois’ leadership reinforces a college-going culture, to make educational equity a reality for MESA’s diverse students,” said Allison Armour-Garb, senior advisor at the DOE’s Office of Higher Education.
“Education is one of those professions that is rarely recognized and appreciated, so I feel like in my role, I’m trying to make sure teachers themselves feel valued and special as well as students. I’m the last person to be thinking of being honored,” said Francois.
Francois has nine years of education experience, which began with a Teach for America Fellowship in Prospect Heights.
After wanting to be in the medical field, she realized that education was her passion all along.
“I feel like teaching found me,” Francois said. “I ended up falling in love with my kids.”
Francois, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, wanted to teach kids that came from backgrounds like hers.
“My passion has always been helping students … that we classify as underserved,” she said. “We put labels on these neighborhoods and students, but we just need someone who is advocating for them.”