A Tribute from 2013 Coretta Scott King Winner Andrea Davis Pinkney

By Andrea Davis Pinkney, vice president and executive editor, Scholastic Inc.

As soon as I met Helen Giles, I knew I had received a tremendous gift. I clearly remember the day I first visited Helen’s school, Classical Studies Academy. It had to be the coldest winter day ever in Connecticut, but Helen’s presence made it warm. I believe some educators are proficient, while others are gifted. During my time at CSA, it became clear to me that Helen Giles is a gifted principal who possesses the ability to recognize the individual learning style and potential of each student and teacher. Helen has the unique ability to discover how each and every one of her students and teachers "ticks" and to develop their talents fully. She understands the importance of self-esteem and individuality in students and teachers, and she places a high value on these.

During Helen’s tenure at Classical Studies Academy, she has taken the school to great heights by unlocking the talents of her faculty and students and letting them shine for the school’s greatest good.

One of Helen’s greatest demonstrations of her devotion to the highest ideals of her school – and to all children – is her commitment to diversity. Through Helen’s work on the Scholastic Principal Advisory Board, she has been a tireless guide in offering feedback about how we can all work together to bring more diversity to the books our children see and read from Scholastic. This is part of Helen’s gift: She is excellent at integrating the scholarly and the personal. Her suggestions for series, book covers, and genres that feature characters of many ethnicities and cultural backgrounds have served as light posts during our ongoing promise to provide young readers with books that reflect all races. Helen’s suggestions for diversity content and outreach come from her hands-on, up-close-and-caring interactions with the students and teachers who, on a daily basis, shower “Ms. Giles” with their hugs of affection and appreciation. She returns these shows of affection by staying focused on what matters most to her students, teachers, and parents – finding tools that build the best readers and thinkers any school can have. Helen’s commitment to diversity is core to this ideal.

Also, Helen is an AMAZING booktalker. Her booktalks are thoughtful and engaging, while allowing listeners to enjoy her own personal take on a book’s power.

I believe the hallmarks of a great principal are intuition, fortitude, intelligence, humor, kindness, humility, and a true interest in the success of others. I also believe that devotion to the good of all children is essential. Helen possesses these traits tenfold. I feel so fortunate to have met and worked with her. I know, too, that every student, teacher, parent, and fellow principal lucky enough to know Helen is extremely grateful.

Andrea is the author of Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America, a 2013 Coretta Scott King Author Award recipient; along with Dear America: With the Might of Angels and Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down, a New York Times Bestseller. Named one of “The 25 Most Influential Black Women in Business” by The Network Journal, Andrea is listed among “The 25 Most Influential People in Our Children’s Lives” by Children’s Health Magazine.
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