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2020 Heart of the School Award Honorees


Monique Debi

Fort Worthington Elementary/Middle School

Principal Debi knows that true student growth happens in spaces filled with love, positive energy and a strong community - all of which she instills every day at Fort Worthington Elementary/Middle School. The impact of this approach on students, staff and school culture is palpable. In her three years as principal, enrollment at the school has nearly doubled and students are making strong academic gains. Teachers at Fort Worthington are positive role models for students, and Principal Debi puts special emphasis on hiring male teachers to support that effort. She emphasizes community involvement by regularly planning community nights and highlighting opportunities for families to support the learning process. Thanks to Principal Debi’s compassionate leadership, community engagement is high and students are succeeding in a nurturing, love-filled environment.


“Monique Debi turned a collaborative building into a community hub. She truly understands that it takes a village to raise our children.” - Justin Hunt, teacher/school staff


“Ms. Debi leads our school down the path of excellence by encouraging deep relationships between scholars and staff. She is never too busy to congratulate a scholar, lift a staff member or listen to the concerns of parents.” - William Richardson, teacher/school staff

The first thing Principal Foster did when arriving as principal of Hampden Elementary/Middle School three years ago was listen. She knows that effective leadership begins with hearing from students, staff and families - what needs they have, what community resources are available to support the school, how the school can improve. Principal Foster heard from her school community and acted, implementing a variety of improvements to enhance student growth and school culture. Parents asked for recess for all students - she made it happen. The Parent Teacher Organization wanted more after school activities - she expanded her school’s offerings. And she created new partnerships with local organizations such as the SPCA, which brings dogs to the school for students to read to. The result of this work is increased enrollment along with students, staff and families fully engaged in the learning process.

“Dr. Foster has created an environment where students are encouraged not only to learn and better themselves through education, but also to make their community the best it can be.” – Amber Guthrie, Community Partner


“In less than two years, Dr. Foster has created an encouraging and supportive atmosphere for teachers, staff, parents and most importantly students.” Timothy St. Clair, Parent


Katrina Foster

Hampden Elementary/Middle School

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Tiffany Halsey

The Belair-Edison Middle School

Thanks to Principal Halsey’s commitment to “connection before content,” students at The Belair-Edison Middle School are engaged before the first bell rings. They begin with a fist bump from Principal Halsey who greets every student at the front door. The connection continues with a robust program of pre-class clubs and student activities, such as a walking club, sports, or creating art with classmates. Through this work, Principal Halsey brings structure to students’ days before school even begins, preparing them to focus, engage, and learn in an environment where they know they are loved and where their voices are heard. Students are given space to think deeply, find solutions on their own and try new things in an environment that supports their exploration. This fosters a positive culture of constant learning among staff and students.

“Principal Halsey is a strong leader, who continually works to ensure that her staff and students have what they need to be successful. The commitment, creativity and dedication of the staff flows from Ms. Halsey’s leadership, support, and high expectations.” Shantay McKinily, community partner


“Ms. Halsey leads not from the top, but from your side.  She is by your side at entry greeting students; she is by your side encouraging young people to be their best selves; she is by your side working with families; she is by your side doing the most important task: teaching.” Heather Stone, teacher/school staff

At Empowerment Academy, students learn while laughing, having fun and trying new things. Principal Moore’s out-of-the-box thinking creates new ways to make learning enjoyable for both students and staff. Her emphasis on arts integration and hands-on creativity in the classroom means that students dance, rhyme and make art to better understand math equations and to build literacy skills. Principal Moore has been known to don a costume and pop into classroom after classroom, bringing joy and laughter to each room. The logic is clear: students learn more effectively when having fun. Thanks to Principal Moore’s leadership, there is a delight in learning at Empowerment Academy.


“I can honestly say that I come to work every day knowing that I am appreciated for all that I do.” – Dawn Umbel, teacher/school staff


“Mrs. Moore prepares our students and staff for the next level of academic achievements and embodies what true leadership should look like.” Stephen Taylor, teacher/school staff


Ashley Moore

Empowerment Academy


Brandon Pinkney

Walter P. Carter Elementary/Middle School

To Principal Pinkney, a successful school starts with strong relationships, and he builds them throughout Walter P. Carter Elementary Middle School. His strong support of staff, personal connection with students and implementation of restorative practices has contributed to the school’s turnaround. Students find a school bustling with positive attitude, thoughtful programs and supportive community partnerships with organizations that align with school goals. Students are empowered to lead programs (including leading safety patrols around the school grounds) and utilize restorative practices with peers on their own.



“Mr. Pinkney is the most patient, caring, loving and giving school staff member I have ever encountered in my 15yrs with BCPSS.” - Kenyetta Sissoko, teacher/school staff


“Mr. Pinkney ensures that every person in the WPC family feels valued and empowered by his inclusive and informative approach.” - Janine Lindsey, teacher/school staff

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