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East St. Louis Golden Apple principal drastically transformed her school in a few years

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Derik Holtmann
Belleville News-Democrat
Wyvetter Younge School of Excellence principal Brittany Green poses for photos with her students Tuesday morning. Green was awarded the prestigious Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Leadership by the golden Apple Foundation. Recipients receive a cash award of $10,000, $5,000 for the school leader and $5,000 goes to the school for a project of the recipient’s choosing.

It’s no easy task to convince a gymnasium full of a few hundred elementary students to be quiet, but the students of Wyvetter Younge School of Excellence in East St. Louis were more than up to the task if it meant pulling off a surprise for their principal.

Principal Brittany Green received the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Leadership on Tuesday. She was one of more than 100 Illinois school leaders nominated for the award.

“I’m so excited and filled with joy,” Green said after being surprised with the award in front of her staff, students, and East St. Louis School District administration. “My heart is full. I cannot believe I won such a prestigious award, and I’m thankful for everyone who nominated me, who had positive things to say, and I just hope this brings more opportunities to our community.”

The Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Leadership is a statewide award that recognizes principals or school heads who have had a significant and sustainable impact on the school, its culture and student growth.

Principal Brittany Green wins statewide leadership award
From "St. Louis on the Air"

The award also comes with $10,000, which will be split evenly between a project for the school and for Green to use for professional development. Decisions are still being made, but Green said the $5,000 for the school would likely be used for social-emotional learning in the fall.

Representatives from Golden Apple said that Green had radically changed the culture at her school. Wyvetter Younge’s staff and students relocated from Gordon Bush Elementary for more room as the district pilots a kindergarten-through-8th grade model, led by Green.

“Teachers want to come here because of her,” Golden Apple President Alan Mather said. “Students want to come here because of her. Parents want their kids to go to this school because of her.”

Kesa Thurman-Stovall, chief program officer of Golden Apple, said that the organization’s on-site visit as part of the evaluation process showed that the school and its families had a sense of community that was unparalleled in many places.

“It wasn’t a horse and pony show,” she said. “It wasn’t something you could fake in the moment.”

As principal at Gordon Bush and now Wyvetter Younge, Green and her team have transformed the school from one of the lowest-performing schools in Illinois to the middle of the pack in just a few years while also decreasing the number of disciplinary issues. By expanding it to a K-8 school over the next few years, the district is hoping to reinforce that trajectory.

Sixth graders Carterion Guyton and Darion Millenben said that Green was very welcoming and interactive with students. They were both very excited that they’d have her as their principal for the next two years.

Even while being recognized for her achievements, Green is focused on what comes next for the school.

“Look out, we’ve got more to do,” she said.

Kayla Drake produced the "St. Louis on the Air" segment for this story. 

Megan Valley is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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