2013 Salute to Education
‘Making teachers better to make students smarter’
Nathalie D. Means Henderson, Ed.S., principal of Jefferson Elementary School in SLPS, Excellence in Education Awardee
Photo by Wiley Price
By Andrew Fowler
For The St. Louis American
Nathalie Means Henderson just started her fifth year as the principal of Jefferson Elementary School in the St. Louis Public School District. She was born and raised in Concord, North Carolina, but has been in St. Louis for the past 10 years and has learned to thrive in this community.
She remembers visiting St. Louis for a Lutheran convention as a teenager, not knowing that this would eventually be her home.
“As a 15 year old, I visited this community,” Henderson said. “God has really been looking out for me in St. Louis.”
Like her adaptation to St. Louis, working in the education field seems to be a natural fit as well. Henderson comes from a family of educators. Both her grandmother and mother were teachers. Her husband, Terrell Henderson, who she married this past summer, is a fellow St. Louis Public School principal at Beaumont High School.
After graduating from Spelman College in 2003 with degrees in history and Spanish, Henderson joined Teach for America and was placed at Sumner High School, where she taught for two years.
During that time she was selected to participate in the St. Louis Public Schools’ New Leaders Program. In 2005, she was a principal intern at Beaumont. The following year she became the assistant principal at Blow Middle School. In 2007, she worked as the assistant principal of McKinley Classical Leadership Academy, and in 2009, she assumed her current position as the principal of Jefferson Elementary School. She is also an adjunct professor at Lindenwood University teaching educational administration classes.
Through her time in St. Louis working in the education field, she has continued to grow as an educator and has committed her time and energy to improving the education provided to children in St. Louis city.
“When I was a principal intern, one of the administrators at Beaumont said working in schools is my ministry,” Henderson said. “Her saying that has really stuck in my mind. If what I do is making teachers better to make students smarter, then that’s what I need to do.”
As she transitioned to becoming an administrator, she earned her master’s in special education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) and her educational leadership degree at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She has returned to UMSL, where she is pursuing her doctoral degree in educational administration.
While Henderson is focused on making sure children leave her school prepared to enter middle school, she also spends time preparing even younger students to enter elementary school. She serves on the board of the I. Jerome and Rosemary Early Childhood Center.
“Our goal is to really create a solid foundation, so when the students come to me in kindergarten, we’re not spending so much time on socialization and kids aren’t seeing letters for the first time,” Henderson said. “We really need kindergarteners to be so much more prepared.”
This year, St. Louis Public Schools recognized her with the 2013 Pettus Principal Award. Henderson received the award because of her dedication to her work at Jefferson Elementary last school year, including how she dealt with a situation involving a gun in the school.
“The first week of February I got a text from someone who got a text from a parent of a child who was shown a gun in school,” Henderson said.
The students had not told any teachers who brought the gun to school. Henderson and her faculty searched the sixth grade classroom and did not find the weapon. Then Henderson walked into the classroom, talked to the class and within five minutes the student who brought the gun to school came forward.
“We locked the school down,” Henderson said. “We brought in counselors the next day.”
As she looks to future, Henderson has several options she is considering.
“I sometimes think I want to go back to teach on a collegiate level,” she said. “I sometimes think I might want to work as a central office administrator.”
But Henderson feels, for the time being, there is plenty of work to do at Jefferson Elementary.
“I definitely feel a close tie to the work I do here,” Henderson said. “I do know that we’re not satisfied where we are. When you think about kids’ lives and setting them up for success we can’t just be satisfied with any level of growth.”