Voice Recognition

KSBA News Article

Annual Conference General Session Keynotes: Inspiring, engaging, entertaining

Salome Thomas-El

Kentucky School Advocate
June 2021

Staff report

Salome Thomas-El, known as Principal EL, inspired board members during Sunday brunch by sharing how school and district leaders can develop positive school cultures that foster the social and emotional development of all students, so teachers can focus on the protective processes that build responsible decision-making and resilience.

Over the last 30 years, Thomas-El has taught chess to hundreds of his economically disadvantaged students, who have won several national chess titles. But when his students began winning, Thomas-EL said he tried to find challenging opponents, so that they would lose. “Struggle is learning,” he said. “Losing will build character.”

Thomas-EL urged board members to remember his four Cs: Be crazy about students, be a champion for students, be consistent in students lives and develop a positive school culture.

“I’m only here today because of people like you,” said Thomas-El, who grew up in the projects of Philadelphia. “We’ve been called to do this work.”

Plenary Session speaker Dominique Smith, chief of educational services and teacher support at Health Sciences High and Middle College in San Diego, Calif., asked board members to imagine a school and a school district with a diverse student body where every student feels safe and valued. Smith reminded board members that “equality does not mean equity,” urging board members and administrators to adopt equity practices and remember that you cannot know someone’s story just by looking at them. 


Violinist and composer Kai Kight wowed board members during the Opening Session with his original compositions while encouraging them to not just play the notes as they are written but to bring their own music to their leadership roles. 

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