Sister Sandra Smithson to deliver annual Julian Parker Lecture on urban education

Sister Sandra Smithson to deliver annual Julian Parker Lecture on urban education

Educator Sister Sandra Smithson will deliver the annual Julian Parker Lecture on urban education Thursday, May 28, in Room 201, Opus Hall, on UST's Minneapolis campus.

Here is the schedule for the evening:

  • 6-7 p.m. – reception
  • 7-7:30 p.m. – presentation of the Minnesota Alliance of Black School Educators Excellence in Diversity Award and the Azell Smith Memorial Scholarships
  • 7:30 p.m. – introduction of the speaker by Jesse Overton, president and chief executive officer of SkyLearn Inc. and SkyTech LLC and alumnus of the University of St. Thomas and the University of Minnesota
  • 7:45 p.m. – Featured speaker, Sister Sandra Smithson, founder of the Project Reflect Education Program and the Smithson-Craighead Academy in Nashville, Tenn.
  • 8:30 pm. – coffee and conversation

Smithson, a Franciscan nun, has had a long and distinguished career as an educator in the United States and Latin America, focusing on the needs of poor children.

In 2003, Smithson, then 77 years old, and her older sister, Mary Craighead, started Smithson Craighead Academy, the first charter school in middle Tennessee. The school has its roots in Project Reflect, a remedial education program the sisters began for disadvantaged children. Now 83, Smithson still is going strong and her school has won numerous awards for its success.

In the late 1950s Smithson had volunteered to go to Latin America with the goal of serving the poor. Instead, she was assigned to a wealthy school in Costa Rica. As director of the school, she had the sisters' salaries raised and used the surplus funds to start an after-school program for the poor children in the neighborhood. The program was so successful that in three years those children were fully integrated into the school.

Smithson's model was used to restructure the education system throughout Costa Rica in a reform that was known as the "Golden Age of Maria Crucis," Smithson's religious name. She would spend 12 years in Latin America, overseeing educational reform in Costa Rica and serving on a provincial team in Honduras that oversaw the work of 80 sisters throughout the region.

The Julian Parker Lecture Series honors the former longtime chair of the education department and dean of the graduate school at Xavier University, New Orleans. Parker was a national leader on urban education and race relations. In the 1960s, Parker was instrumental in dealing with issues of race and diversity when he worked at St. Thomas in an exchange program between the nation’s historically black colleges and private colleges in Minnesota.

The lecture is co-sponsored by the Department of Leadership, Policy and Administration of St. Thomas' College of Applied Professional Studies and the Minnesota Alliance of Black School Educators, which uses the occasion to present scholarships to outstanding students and to give an annual award to a person who has made significant contributions to diversity in Minnesota education.

Additional partners for this series are: the University of St. Thomas School of Education, Minnesota Minority Education Partnership, NAACP Minneapolis, Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, St. Peter Claver Church and School, Academia Cesar Chavez and HOPE Community Academy.

The event is free and open to the public. If you plan to attend, e-mail Robert Brown so that appropriate facilities and refreshments can be arranged.