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2016 Most Influential Women Honoree: Rebecca Donaldson

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Education is the passion that fuels Rebecca Donaldson’s purpose.

Having started in the classroom, she now is in her third year as principal for Weller Elementary School.

“As a classroom teacher, I have led children in the learning process. As a reading specialist, I have led struggling readers into the world of books. As a literacy coach, I have led teachers to improve their pedagogy. And now as a principal, I lead a community – a high-poverty elementary school of students who are racially diverse with many English language learners,” says Donaldson, who started with Springfield Public Schools in 1999.
Donaldson says her leadership is demonstrated through children, their parents, teachers, staff and the many community volunteers. They share a vision for Weller Elementary to become the hub of the north-side neighborhood where children and families grow.

Donaldson moved to Springfield 20 years ago so her husband, Steve, and his brothers could start Convoy of Hope in the central United States. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Evangel University, two master’s degrees – in reading from Evangel and education administration from Missouri State University – and a doctorate of education in educational leadership from the University of Missouri.

While pursuing her doctorate, Donaldson faced hardship when her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor and their then-17-year-old son had a stroke. She acknowledges the grit and determination it took to maintain her commitment to education while taking care of her family and considers it a professional accomplishment. But it’s not her greatest accomplishment.

Donaldson reserves that for the work she does every day at Weller. Her interactions with one student, in particular, stand out – a bully who frequently disrupted school with angry outbursts but who also displayed leadership qualities.

Donaldson chose to try and steer this student in a positive direction, asking a friend to mentor him as a Half Hour Hero during lunch, among other efforts.

“His academics improved, and his negative behavior subsided,” Donaldson says. “The opportunity to help change the trajectory of a child is the greatest of my accomplishments. And the ripples for that child are many.”

She seeks to influence adults, too. When Donaldson taught at Campbell Elementary School, she created ParentsConnect@Campbell, which offered evening GED classes.

“Parents of my students have completed their GED or enrolled in college. Teachers I’ve led have learned public speaking, chaired large school events and have taken new steps professionally,” Donaldson says. “I hope the influence of my leadership will continue to unlock the potential of people.”

Jason Anderson, SPS’ executive director of elementary learning, says Donaldson embraces her role as a person of influence in students’ lives.

“Working to mitigate the at-risk behaviors and impact of inequalities is no small undertaking, but leading her 17 classroom teachers with over a dozen other teaching and support staff is what Rebecca has committed to do and has demonstrated success,” he says.


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