In her upper 80’s, she was the oldest principal in the U.S., serving a gang-ridden high school in Houston, that everyone else had written off as a lost cause. Perhaps we should regard Dr. Bertie Simmons as the matriarch of education. Having devoted most of her life to the enrichment of young lives, standing up for the underprivileged and underserved, she’s an example of a living hero. 

Bertie Simmons can draw from a long and extraordinary history to help us in understanding our complicated times and arm us with knowledge and advice to create a better future. And, as homeschooling has become the “new normal,” Dr. Simmons can be a beacon for the parents who have found themselves in their new roles as teachers.

BIO

For 58 years, Bertie Simmons, Ed.D. was a dedicated educator in the Houston Independent School District (HISD). The first of Simmons’ seemingly countless honors came in 1965, when she was named the HISD Teacher of the Year. During her career in HISD, she served as Assistant Superintendent, District Superintendent, Associate Superintendent, and Executive Director. After retiring in 1995, she returned to the district in 2000 to serve as the principal of Furr High School for 17 years. 

She is widely regarded for being instrumental in the effort to revitalize the school and create transformational opportunities for some of Houston’s most disadvantaged students. Furr was one of only three schools in the nation identified to receive the College Board Inspiration Award in 2011. During her tenure at Furr, she received notable professional recognitions that include HEB’s Best High School Principal in Texas award in 2011 and KHOU’s Schools Now Spirit of Texas award.

Known as a visionary and change agent who can bring out the best in her students, the high-energy educator arrived at Furr High School at 6:30 am each school day. She maintained that upbeat and infectious attitude to reach and inspire her teachers and students with her passion, knowledge, dedication, and even the occasional rap song or two. She was known to make “house calls” to truant students’ houses and even phoned a student each morning who needed a wake-up call. Dr. Simmons has recently completed her memoir, Whispers of Hope.

As evidence of Simmons’ indelible impact on the high school during her 17-year tenure, education advocate and philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, wife of the late Apple, Inc. CEO Steve Jobs, recognized Furr High School in 2016 as a recipient of a $10 million grant through the XQ Super School Project. Simmons’ school was 1 of 10 selected from nearly 700 schools nationwide for “reimagining high school education.”

ABOUT THE BOOK 

Whispers of Hope is a compelling narrative detailing the life of a young girl born in the deep south during the Jim Crow era. Her tale includes her realization that to make a better life for herself and others, she must run away from the struggles of her young life and go headlong into a world about which she knows nothing. Bertie Simmons eventually finds her way to Houston where she serves successfully in many leadership positions within a large urban school district and witnesses the painfully slow process of integration.

The story culminates with her adventures and challenges as the principal in a “throwaway” high school labeled “a pipeline to prison “and a “drop-out factory.” The reader learns of her innovative approach to building a culture of community and student success that results in the school winning a $10 million grant to rethink high schools. 

Bertie Simmons guides us through the painful experience of having her dreams dashed, and yet, she emerges with a strong commitment to spreading hope across the landscape,emerging strong and valiant.

TALKING POINTS

  • Coronavirus issues affecting our education system; with homeschooling the new normal – thoughts, advice, support for the “new teachers”
  • Safety in Schools- Bertie talks about her relationship to Houston’s gangs and how she did away with suspensions and forced opposing gang members to sit down and talk it out.
  • Domestic Violence – an abhorrent side effect of sheltering in place, advice on what to look for and how to help
  • Civil rights – a life-long cause that Bertie continues to embrace and why we’re still dealing with it in the South
  • May is Older Americans Month; senior rights – Bertie discussed in her Tedx talk
  • Talking Texas education and schools – decades of experience and wisdom in her home state (Houston particularly) and how she went up against the HISD board

TIE-INS

  • May- Older Americans Month
  • June 1 – Say Something Nice Day
  • June 15 – World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
  • June 19 – Juneteenth celebration for African American communities
  • August 25-31 – Be Kind to Humankind Week
  • August 21 – Senior Citizen’s Day
  • September – Self-Care Awareness Month, Self-Improvement Month, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

PRAISE

“An absorbing memoir written with poetic flair.”
“A gifted truth-teller, Bertie Simmons…made me feel like a witness to the growth over the years of a remarkable educator willing to dive into any challenge with intelligence and conviction. It becomes clear why she was able to conceive and develop an inspired and award-winning high school. Bertie turned around the lives of hundreds of young people. With directness, realism, and reflection, she completes her tale by unraveling the difficult series of events surrounding her loss of that school. Bertie Simmons emerges strong and valiant. Whispers of Hope is a hero’s journey.”
– Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, President, Curriculum Designers, Inc. 

“Bertie Simmons is a force for transforming education into a more equitable, engaging opportunity.”
“After reading this book, you will be inspired to reflect on your own backstory and how you can lift yourself to new actions to work on behalf of the future of all of our children.”
– Bena Kallick, Ph.D, Author and Co-Director of the Institute for Habits of Mind