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(Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) – As part of Moravian College’s Al Williams Leadership Series, Mr. Salome Thomas-El will speak at the College on Monday, February 2, 2004 at 7:00 p.m. in Prosser Auditorium. During his presentation, “I choose to Stay: A Teacher Fights for America’s Inner City Schools,” Thomas-El will share his teaching experiences in the inner city schools of Philadelphia which demonstrate that a commitment to teaching in the public schools can result in excellence and success for children that most of society has abandoned.
Salome Thomas-El, a doctoral student at Lehigh University, was born and raised in the inner city of Philadelphia and has been a teacher in the Philadelphia School District since 1987. He earned national praise as a teacher and chess coach at Robert Vaux Middle School, where his students have won world recognition as eight-time National Chess Champions.
In November of 1997, after eight years at Vaux, Thomas-El learned that he had been promoted and transferred to another school. The promotion came not only because he increased morale and discipline among students at his school but also because he taught children to play chess, children who went on to win local and national competitions. Despite a $20,000 raise, the authority to make changes, and the power to influence a greater number of students, Thomas-El turned the promotion down.
He said, “I can’t leave my students. What happens if they come in on Monday, and I’m not here? They’ll say ‘He left because of the money,’ and I don’t want them to think that way. I’m the only male role model these kids have. I want them to know at least one black male who is committed to staying.” California governor was so impressed by Thomas-El during a 1999 visit, he came back in 2000 and awarded the school a $20,000 grant.
Thomas-El is the recipient of several awards, including the “Making a Difference” award from KYW-CBS Television for his commitment to his community and rejection of six-figure job offers from local suburban school districts. He was honored with the Marcus A. Foster Award as the outstanding school district administrator in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Daily News named him “A Future Black History Maker,” and he has earned the University of Pennsylvania’s distinguished Martin Luther King Award. Thomas-El appeared in Reader’s Digest Magazine and Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers (2002). He has also appeared on the Fox News cable show The O’Reilly Factor, C-SPAN Book TV, The Travis Smiley Show, and NPR Radio.
Currently, Thomas-El is principal at John F. Reynolds Elementary School in North Philadelphia. He has established reading and breakfast programs as well as a tutoring program on Saturday mornings. It is not uncommon for Thomas-El to take his students to visit colleges and attend their graduations. 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, said Thomas-El, “I’ve been to too many funerals; I need to go to more graduations.”
Thomas-El is also the author of a new book entitled I Choose to Stay (March 2003). Best-selling author Jonathan Kozol says of the book, “I Choose to Stay is an intensely moving story of loyalty and courage and a deeply personal tribute to the great potential of our inner-city kids, so frequently dismissed and denigrated by American society.” Thomas-El’s lecture, which will be based on his book, is a moving and inspirational account of one man’s courage to stand by the students he so strongly believed in.
The Alfred T. Williams Leadership Series is named in honor of Judge Williams -- former senior judge of Northampton County Court of Common Pleas, and former life trustee and chairman of the Moravian College Board of Trustees. The series is designed to bring successful local and regional leaders from various walks of life and professions to campus to talk and interact with students about diverse aspects of leadership.