2023 Heart Of The School Award Winners Announced

The Heart of the Schools, a year-round program managed by the Fund for Educational Excellence that celebrates and supports Baltimore City Public School principals, announced today the five winners to be recognized at the 2023 Heart of the School Awards on Thursday, May 25, 2023, at the Hippodrome Theatre.  

“We had an overwhelming response this year, receiving hundreds of nominations from parents, students, teachers, partners and community members, all singing their principal’s praises,” said Kevin Leary, senior program director at the Fund for Educational Excellence, who manages the Heart of the Schools program. “The Heart of the Schools is thrilled to shine a light on the exceptional work of this year’s Winners, who have built exemplary school cultures where students are excited to attend school every day, teachers are inspired and valued, and parents feel welcome and included.”   

The 2023 Heart of the School Award winners will each receive $2,500 to support needs at their schools as they see fit, and include:   

  • Mark Bongiovanni of Curtis Bay Elementary School: “Mr. B,” as he’s universally known, is in his sixth year as principal. Reinforcing the school’s core value of kindness, Mr. B creates a loving environment with his students by creating daily video announcements starring his dog, Jack, that started during COVID and continue now that school is open.
  • Tiffany Etheridge of Belmont Elementary School: In her eighth year as principal, Ms. Etheridge takes a family approach to leading, which makes sense as she grew up in the neighborhood and her grandmother was the school librarian. She emphasizes mental and physical health schoolwide with regular mindfulness activities, staff and community fitness classes and healthy food options which resulted in Belmont being named one of the Healthiest Schools in America and a decrease in office referrals!

  • Peter Kannam of Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School: For the last five years as principal, Mr. Kannam has propelled his students to academic excellence while focusing on their joy and passion. Under his leadership, the school has served its students and the surrounding East Baltimore community by distributing over one million pounds of food since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Brandon Pinkney of Walter P. Carter Elementary Middle School: With eight years as a principal under his belt, five of which at Walter P. Carter, Mr. Pinkney never forgets what it was like to be a teacher and prides himself on promoting staff wholeness while creating space for teachers to thrive. The high teacher morale shows up in their 97% attendance rate and school achievement data, having exceeded their 2022-2023 end-of-year goals in English Language Arts (ELA) in just half a year!
  • Jacqueline Williams, director of the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute: Ms. Williams, a distinguished alumna of Poly, has served as director for the last twelve years. Prior to her starting, Poly was ranked outside of the top 1000 STEM high schools in the nation and now, because of her leadership and vision, the school was ranked number 36 by Newsweek in 2020!

In addition to the five principals being honored as this year’s winners, the Heart of the School Awards event will shine a light on five additional City Schools principals who were selected as the top 10 principals out of the 105 nominated this year: Kelly Casagrande in her second year as principal of Charm City Virtual School; Nichelle Johnson-Walker in her eleventh year as principal of Morrell Park Elementary/Middle School; Venus Jackson in her third year as principal of Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School; Aleesha Manning in her sixth year as principal of Cecil Elementary School; and Cheyanne Zahrt in her seventh year as principal of City Neighbors High School.   

The event is free for all principals, but tickets are available to purchase at heartoftheschools.org with proceeds supporting the Heart of the School Fund, a program delivering grants to Baltimore City Public Schools principals for school enhancement projects, principal-led events and more. Coordinated by the Fund for Educational Excellence, the Heart of the Schools is a collaboration of dozens of businesses, foundations, individuals and nonprofits. 

To learn more about the Heart of the Schools program and the top ten principals being celebrated, visit heartoftheschools.org.   

The Fund for Educational Excellence believes that all Baltimore City Public School students deserve an excellent and equitable education. Through its relationships with the school district and philanthropic, corporate, and community leaders, the Fund builds support for school system improvements, promotes racially equitable public policy and practice, attracts and oversees philanthropic investments, and manages innovative programs that support City Schools’ students and communities. The nonprofit, founded in 1984, serves as Baltimore’s independent public education fund and works for every student to reach their full potential. To learn more, visit ffee.org.