Dec. 1, 2017

Teresa James Robinson

A TRUE LEADER — Teresa James, coordinator at Simon Youth Academy, an IPS alternative high school located in Circle Centre Mall, received the 2017 Simon Youth Foundation Administrator of the Year award during the foundation’s annual conference.

Teresa James admits that she really wanted to win the Simon Youth Foundation Administrator of the Year award during her first year as coordinator of Simon Youth Academy, an IPS alternative school located inside Circle Centre Mall.

That was in 2015. She was nominated that year, but didn’t win.

“I thought it would be cool to win then because it was our first year for the school and I really wanted us to get that recognition,” said James.

But who says dreams don’t eventually come true? James was named the 2017 Simon Youth Foundation Administrator of the Year during the organization’s annual conference in November in Nashville, Tenn.

The win was a complete shock — she wasn’t expecting it and also because she still doesn’t know who nominated her for the honor. It was also stiff competition. There are 30-plus Simon Youth Academies throughout the country, from California to New Jersey, but only five administrators were nominated this year.

“The cool thing about winning this year is because in the past two years in this job, I’ve gotten to know all of these really wonderful people. And I was nominated with what I call the ‘Dream Team’ of administrators — people that I’ve learned from, that I’ve hung out with and presented with. So I was fortunate to be nominated with these great people and extremely fortunate to win,” said James.

However, she said the win really isn’t about her and her work. It’s about the work of the students and her staff.

The Indianapolis-based Simon Youth Academy, which opened in fall 2015, has a 100 percent college acceptance rate for two years running. Students and staff work diligently on intra and interpersonal skills; go on at least three college tours a year and multiple field trips (“to expose students and expand their knowledge of what’s out there,” said James); attend and host hiring fairs; and offer flexible schedules so students can also handle to the responsibilities of their non-traditional lives.

Simon Youth Academy students often deal with homelessness, bullying, illness, parenthood, supporting their families, or facing other challenging personal circumstances, which makes excelling in a traditional high school setting difficult. The academies are non-traditional high schools that provide at-risk students the same education they would receive in a traditional classroom, but in a flexible environment. The goal is to decrease the dropout rate and to help students achieve their goals.

Located mostly in Simon malls (in 12 states) and through partnerships with public school systems, the academies offer small class sizes, one-on-one support and blended learning options with “teachers and online curriculum, so students can accelerate their learning so they can graduate as quickly as possible,” said James. Students receive accredited high school diplomas from their public-school districts.

While James never imagined being a principal of an alternative school, she said Simon Youth Academy turns the negative connotation often associated with alternative schools on its head. And she’s definitely proud of the work that she and her team have accomplished in such a short time, and attributes her award to their collective efforts.

“Being able to provide opportunities (for our students) is what’s most exciting to me and the award is the byproduct of that,” said James. “I’m just the person who goes to the events and gets the awards. … At the end of the day, yes, I received a big piece of crystal that says Administrator of the Year, but it’s the result of the hard work and dedication of these teachers and our guidance counselor and social worker who are working so hard for these students. They are the franchise.”

Kudos to Teresa James, the 2017 Simon Youth Foundation Administrator of the Year!