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Salome Thomas-EL

Inspirational Principal
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Biography

“Every child needs someone to be crazy about them.” These are the words of Salome Thomas-EL, award-winning teacher, principal, and nationally recognized educator. They shape his lifelong commitment to answering the question, “How do we ensure that every child achieves their greatest potential?” This question lies at the heart of the national dialogue on education policy, the day in and day out work of school personnel, and the hopes of every parent. Central to this challenge is how we succeed with children who are facing the most serious barriers to success: poverty, violence, neglect, and low expectations.

For over 20 years, Principal EL has taken on this challenge with the absolute belief that every child can and will learn as long as adults in their world care enough to not give up. Starting as a teacher and chess coach at Vaux Middle School and through his years as principal at several traditional public and charter schools, Thomas-EL has transformed the attitudes and strategies of school staff, parents, and members of the community to help hundreds of troubled children not only graduate from high school but go on to earn higher degrees from major colleges and universities. He brings to the process a powerful combination of passion, caring, and leadership to craft a refreshing, common sense roadmap to help kids achieve their dreams, no matter the odds.

Thomas-EL has been a teacher and principal in Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware, since 1987. He is currently the Head of School at Thomas Edison Charter School in Wilmington. Principal EL received national acclaim as a teacher and chess coach at Vaux Middle School, where his students have gone on to win world recognition as Eight-Time National Chess Champions. He was a regular contributor on the first season of The Dr. Oz Show and is the author of the best-selling books, I Choose to Stay, about his Vaux Middle School experience, and The Immortality of Influence (foreword by Will Smith), which stresses the importance of leadership, mentoring, parenting, and service to others. The Walt Disney Company has optioned the movie rights to I Choose to Stay.

Thomas-EL speaks to groups across the country and frequently appears on C-SPAN, CNN, and NPR. He has studied in London and Cambridge, England and is currently a doctoral candidate. He has received the Marcus A. Foster Award as the outstanding School District Administrator in Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania’s distinguished Martin Luther King Award. Principal EL recently appeared on The Oprah Radio Network and was recognized by Reader’s Digest as an “Inspiring American Icon.”

Topics

The Immortality of Influence

Thomas-EL uses practical, real-world examples to present the universal methods he has so successfully used to help his students achieve their dreams. He famously began a chess club-the Mighty Bishops - to teach his students at an early age to think critically and to resolve conflict with their minds instead of their fists. Not only did his students win national championships and become local heroes among their peers, they also scored high on the SAT, which got them into colleges and universities. Thomas-EL found himself faced with kids who weighed more than he did, so he started a simple summer program where the students walked to museums and other cultural events around the city; those who exercised felt better about themselves and in turn became better students. Citing the importance of exposing his students to the world outside of their own sometimes troubled community, he tells of taking 15 of his African American kids to rural Vermont, where they interacted with white children their age and discovered how much they had in common. All of these students were later accepted to magnet high schools.

Based on his book, The Immortality of Influence, this keynote speech is a refreshing, commonsense roadmap to helping kids achieve their dreams, not only for parents and educators but for everyone who knows that just one person really can make a difference.

I Choose to Stay

Thomas-EL is the author of I Choose to Stay: A Black Teacher Refuses to Desert the Inner City - an intensely moving story of loyalty and courage and a deeply personal tribute to the great potential of inner-city kids. In 1997, as a teacher at Roberts Vaux Middle School in Philadelphia's inner city, he was offered a promotion, not only because he had helped to improve scholastics, morale, and discipline at his school, but because he had taught children to play chess—and win local and national competitions . He turned down the promotion. He was committed to stay and be the role model those children needed. Armed with a chess board and a profound belief in their potential, Thomas-EL's faith and commitment has motivated hundreds of children in Philadelphia to attend magnet high schools and major colleges and universities. His story proves that teaching in the public schools can result in excellence and success for children most of society has abandoned. Reflecting on how it feels to see a young person he has mentored walk down the aisle toward a real future instead of to an early grave, Thomas-EL has said: "I've been to too many funerals; I need to go to more graduations."

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