During Homecoming and Reunion on October 14, Amy Helms '03 will receive St. Andrew's Distinguished Alumni Award. Read more about her teaching career as well as her current role as Head of School at D.C. Scholars Public Charter School.
Amy Helms ‘03 knows what it’s like to be overlooked - she has spent her entire professional career as a teacher, after all. That’s why when she received notification that she is this year’s recipient of St. Andrew’s Distinguished Alumni Award, it came as a bit of a surprise.
“I was really shocked when I received notification that I had been selected,” Helms exclaimed. “I know so many of my fellow alums are doing important work. Educators are often overlooked and rarely receive recognition. It means a lot to be recognized for my work in education!”
Helms has spent her entire professional life as a teacher but arriving at that point was not a straight line. “In college, I pursued other interests I had cultivated at St. Andrew's, including history, politics, and French,” Helms said in 2021 for St. Andrew’s magazine’s “Education” issue. “But, upon graduation, I realized I accidentally minored in child development because I elected so many courses related to the development of young people, schools, and education policy.
“At St. Andrew's, I had the privilege of having so many outstanding educators who built my self-confidence, cultivated my passions, and helped me better understand my strengths and weaknesses. I wanted to have that same impact on young people. And the more I became aware of systemic inequities in our education system, the more resolved I became that all students, regardless of race, zip code, or economic status, deserve an outstanding education like the one I had.”
After earning a B.A from Tufts and a Master’s in Elementary Education and Teaching For America, she spent two years working with Teach For America and another two working at a D.C. Charter School. She then spent three years as an elementary teacher at St. Andrew’s in what was then the Intermediate School before earning another Master’s, this one in school leadership, from Harvard Graduate School of Education. Since then, she has risen from Assistant Principal at D.C. Prep to her current role as Head of School at D.C. Scholars Public Charter School, a PK-8 co-ed school. She will be honored at the Alumni Awards Brunch on October 14 as part of Homecoming and Reunion weekend.
“Now, as a Head of School, I have the privilege of hiring a new generation of educators and equipping them with the resources and development to ensure that our students have world-class learning opportunities. I am driven every day to ensure that our students have the opportunity to develop the skills and mindsets for success in the college and career of their choosing. As we see data on the outsized impact of COVID-19 school closures and learning disruptions on students of color and low-income students, our work is more essential than ever.”
As Head of School, Helms is focused on organization-wide practices, management of the non-academic roles, budget, liaising with Board members and other non-academic focused roles. She also oversees the school principal who manages the day-to-day academics of the school.
“In my role, I manage the school leaders,” Helms said. “It is a pleasure to generate novel solutions to dilemmas with this team. As a public charter school, sometimes our resources – time, talent, and financial – are limited. We are always willing to try something new, seek an outside perspective, and share the hard truths with one another in service of our mission. For example, due to the nationwide teacher shortage, we have had to come up with creative staffing solutions. In partnership with a foundation, we developed a plan to leverage our most seasoned teachers to teach across multiple grade levels while building a pipeline of teacher associates to work alongside the lead teachers, and, hopefully, grow to become teachers themselves.
“When I took on this role, there were aspects of it that were less appealing to me because I had never done them before and I doubted my abilities. I was not sure if I had the skills to raise money, build a budget, manage a facility, work with a board of directors, etc. Today, those are some of the things I love the most. I am not afraid to ask questions and have found great mentors to help me along the way.”
Many of Helms’ former teachers, and colleagues, will be in attendance on October 14, but as far as they are concerned, this honor should not come as a surprise. Co-Head of Lower School Judy Kee had perhaps the most unique perspective, first as one of her teachers, and later, teaching alongside her in the then-Intermediate School.
“When I think about Amy, the one word that comes to mind is passion,” Kee said. “When I taught her as a fourth grade student, she embraced ambition and commitment to all aspects of school and personal life. When I was able to teach alongside her in the fifth grade, she embodied a love of the teacher’s craft and the drive to cultivate best practices. She always had many projects that she was involved in but always put connecting with people first. I’m not surprised that she is receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award because she is a remarkable, highly regarded student, educator, colleague, and friend.”