When, in 2020, we named Richard Gordon our first-ever people’s choice Integrity Icon winner, he was already making headlines for turning around Robeson High School, where he was principal.
After 10 years in the principalship, he turned a school facing permanent closure into one achieving national prominence: It now has a 95 percent four-year cohort graduation rate, more than 40 community partnerships to support personalized and experiential learning, and endless accolades and endorsements. Gordon was named National Principal of the Year — three times.
Now, in recognition of his record of success, School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Tony B. Watlington Sr., Ed.D. promoted Gordon this year to Assistant Superintendent for Learning Network #1. “Although I am heartbroken leaving my beloved Paul Robeson High School after 10 amazingly successful years, I’ve been called to duty and asked to step up, to impact education in Philadelphia on a larger scale,” Gordon says.
Gordon is a superstar and, with his grit and grace, would have found a way to achieve his level of success no matter what. But he says that being named an Integrity Icon was decidedly a boon.
“The exposure the Philadelphia Citizen provided me as the People’s Choice Integrity Icon truly placed me, and my school, on the radar of the School District of Philadelphia, City Council, and for many people across the region and country,” he says. “Being named the People’s Choice Integrity Icon has helped Paul Robeson High School and my tenure build credibility, professional authority in the field of education, increase our national exposure to bring light to the Philadelphia ecosystem, and legitimize the integrity of our academic program, its overall excellence, in how it serves our at-risk students deriving from our most impoverished, most vulnerable student populations.”
Including Gordon, The Citizen has now named 15 Philadelphia city workers Integrity Icons who model the highest standard of ethics and go above and beyond their job descriptions to improve life in Philadelphia. We launched Integrity Icon with the nonprofit Accountability Lab, which runs the Integrity Icon program in cities around the world. And all of our Icons continue to make us kvell.
Read all about our 2023 Icons here, and then help us decide who should be the people’s choice winner.
Where are they now?
Dr. Ruth Abaya, the Children’s Hospital Of Philadelphia (CHOP) pediatrician we honored in 2021 for her work addressing gun violence – treating patients in the ER, and tracking gun violence victims to better meet their needs — is now the Senior Director for Health Systems and CVI integration at the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention (HAVI). She’s also stayed connected to Accountability Lab, presenting her work to AL’s network around the world.
Carlos Aponte was named an Icon when he was a teacher at One Bright Ray Community High School who’d launched We Love Philly, a group designed to help students in alternative high school programs get to graduation, and find meaningful ways to give back to the city. Now, We Love Philly is a bona fide nonprofit that Aponte runs full-time as its executive director, with a focus on apprenticeships and other programs that help students not only get to graduation, but find livable wage employment thereafter.
There’s Thomas Quinn, who’s continuing in his dual roles at Central High School teaching civics, critical financial literacy, and AP Research, and as PA Youth Vote’s Education & Policy Director; since winning his award, he’s been excited to grow PA Youth Vote to Allegheny County and the Philly suburbs, and provide young people with the knowledge and skills to be informed and engaged voters.
“The Integrity Icon role provided a great boost to our efforts to get students in Philly public schools registered and ready to vote,” he says. “In the 2022 election, PA Youth Vote and School District staff helped raise the voter turnout by Philly 18-year-olds, normally among the lowest age groups to be higher than the citywide average! Now we are seeking support to bring our success to public schools across the Commonwealth.”
Shaquita Smith is a curriculum specialist for the School District of Philadelphia. Among other projects she’s taken on since being named an Icon: She’s part of Villanova University’s instructional video series, through which she teaches about Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s work. She’s presented at the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH) Conference, with an upcoming presentation on Afrofuturism. She presented at the Teaching Black History Conference at the University of Buffalo about “uncovering African Proverbs in Hip Hop verses.” And she’s on the state standards committee to rewrite the economic standards. When we caught up with her her, she was just returning from a conference in England at Balliol College in Oxford on Teaching the TransAtlantic Slave Trade.
Last year, our second hosting the program, “Tree Lady” Lori Maple Hayes, the City’s Director of Urban Forestry, was named people’s choice winner. And good thing, too, because she recently announced her much-deserved retirement after 42 years; but first, her colleagues planted a tree in her honor – fittingly, a sugar maple.
Paraprofessional Leah Wood, one of the founding members of Para Power, which organizes around salary issues and working conditions, is credited with helping to raise awareness of the needs of paraprofessionals in the teachers union, and fighting for their dignity—particularly during the pandemic. She recently started college at College Unbound under the Parapathway program with the School District. She’s currently enrolled as an Organizational Leadership and Change major. “I took this opportunity to be able to better run ParaPower to help more paras. My ultimate goal is to make ParaPower a resource for all paras around the world,” she says. She’s also in the process of writing a book called “How not to be ‘that’ Para down the hall: The Abolitionist Para Guide.”
Lauren Young, executive director of Curriculum and Instruction, oversees K-12 English language arts and mathematics for the School District of Philadelphia. Since being recognized as an Integrity Icon, she has been collaborating with stakeholders to launch high-quality instructional resources for the entire school district of Philadelphia, encompassing over 230 schools, “to ensure that every student, regardless of their zip code, has equitable access to meticulously researched and well-crafted instructional materials,” she says. “This initiative aims to equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in both college and their future careers.”
“You’re never really sure that anyone notices when you’re working for city government. Often, we keep our heads down and diligently chip away at obstacles ahead with little attention,” says Rebecca Lopez Kriss, Deputy Revenue Commissioner in the Philadelphia Department of Revenue. “Being a part of the Integrity Icon helped me restore a light in public service that after 12 years can dim. I’m honored to be named alongside [folks] whose service is changing lives in Philadelphia, and I strive to merit my place among them.”
And Stephanie Ridgeway continues to innovate within the urban transportation sphere, as the Indego Community Coordinator Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability (Otis) City of Philadelphia.
All of our Icons are continuing to make a difference in the lives of others, all while upholding their uniquely high standards of integrity.
Like them, this year’s cohort of winners is a staggering group of workers who are making a difference in fields as diverse as public art and the police force. Read about all five of them, then vote for your favorite, here, before voting closes on September 22.
Integrity Icon Philadelphia is made possible in part thanks to the generous support of Thomas Skelton Harrison Foundation.
MEET OUR 2023 INTEGRITY ICONSPast Integrity Icons, clockwise from far left: Richard Gordon, Thomas Quinn, Stephanie Ridgeway, Shaquita Smith, Rebecca Lopez Kriss, Lori Maple Hayes, Lauren Young, Carlos Aponte, Leah Wood, Dr. Ruth Abaya