Doctoral student Belinda Quimby brings servant leadership to Humboldt Academy as principal

by | Aug 22, 2022

Quimby worked in the performing arts field as a choreographer and director before changing career paths and enrolling in the College of Education.
Belinda Quimby

Belinda Quimby worked in the performing arts field for several years before changing career paths and enrolling in the College of Education at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. She’s earned two master’s degrees and an EdS and is currently pursuing an EdD. As principal, she’s working toward certifying Humboldt Academy of Higher Learning Elementary School as a School of Character. (Photo by August Jennewein)

For Belinda Quimby, it seems that going into education has always been in the cards.

“It was definitely on my radar as a kid,” she said. “Grownups would tell me, ‘Oh, you’d be a good teacher.’”

Quimby even began teaching ballet at her dance school when she was 15, but she became increasingly drawn to the theater, switching her major from education to performing arts at Indiana University. Eventually, she found her way back to education after a few years working as a director and choreographer.

Her friends were working at St. Elizabeth Academy and asked for help producing the school musical. It awakened a dormant passion.

“I worked with them for a few years in a row, choreographing the spring musicals, and it was just great to be around the kids, seeing what they were doing,” Quimby said. “Their work was inspiring, and it just seemed so impactful to be with the kids every day. I think that’s what really pushed me back into it.”

The experience motivated Quimby to enroll in the College of Education at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, where she earned her teaching certificate and master’s in secondary education. Since then, she’s earned an additional MEd in educational administration and an EdS in educational leadership and administration from UMSL and is currently pursuing an EdD at the university.

Along the way, she was named a St. Louis Public Schools Teacher of the Year, and recently, she began leading Humboldt Academy of Higher Learning Elementary School as principal. In that role, she’s centered character education and servant leadership for students, staff and faculty.

After earning her bachelor’s degree from IU, Quimby moved to St. Louis because it’s historically been a center of arts, culture and music and offers the amenities of city life without being too overwhelming. However, at a certain point, she realized that she was lacking direction in the performing arts industry.

Her time volunteering with musicals at St. Elizabeth Academy spurred her decision to change careers. As a strong proponent of public education, she was attracted to UMSL’s status as the only public, tier 1 research university in the area.

At the College of Education, Quimby found supportive, knowledgeable faculty members such as Scholar in Residence Tom Hoerr and Sanford N. McDonnell Endowed Professor in Character Education Marvin Berkowitz, who have become trusted mentors.

“I’ve just really enjoyed the classes that I’ve had,” she said. “They’ve been good at provoking discussion on serious and impactful issues in education, and I think that kept me going back to their program.”

Quimby was interested in learning more about servant leadership – a concept where leaders put an emphasis on ethics and integrity to create a better environment for everyone – in schools, and UMSL provided her opportunities to pursue that area of study in graduate programs and in her current doctoral program. She’s still working toward her EdD but has enjoyed the support of Hoerr and Berkowitz, as well as the camaraderie of her classmates.

“The cohort model was really attractive because we’re doing it together,” she said. “My dissertation is mine, but being with that group, growing together through this process and being there to be cheerleaders for one another is encouraging and helpful.”

The lessons and training Quimby received over the years at UMSL have been valuable in her education career. She worked as a paraprofessional for a year at the Special School District of St. Louis County before moving to a teaching position in St. Louis Public Schools, where she’s been the past nine years.

Quimby began her time at SLPS as a reading intervention teacher at Busch Middle School of Character. She worked with students who struggled to read at grade level and English language learners. As a literature lover, she found the work especially rewarding.

“You have that opportunity every day to be helping them reach that one moment that shifts all of a sudden – they hadn’t been doing well with something and now they get it,” Quimby said. “You want to try a million different ways to help them get there because it’s so important for them and their future.”

While in that position, she won SLPS 2015 Middle/High School Communication Arts Teacher of the Year for her dedication to instilling values such as honesty, determination and responsibility in her students. Eventually, she transitioned to teaching language arts at Busch, and in 2019, she was promoted to assistant principal.

The move from the classroom to administration was fairly smooth, as Quimby had sought leadership opportunities as a teacher. Plus, she was still able to serve students.

“Being a classroom teacher and being an administrator are very different, but I still got to be with kids every day and help them figure out how to problem solve,” she said.

Last summer, SLPS named Quimby principal of Humboldt Academy of Higher Learning Elementary School. Quimby has brought her philosophy as a teacher to the position of school leader.

“I have the expectation that everyone can learn and improve from where they are starting with a little help,” she said. “It’s our role to ensure that we are doing everything we can to help those kids grow, but in that, we have to believe in that possibility. You can’t get stuck on things that are obstacles.”

There were plenty of obstacles during her first year at Humboldt Academy due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent safety precautions. However, she envisions this school year feeling “more normal.”

Quimby is also excited to make progress on some initiatives that started last year. A primary goal will be certifying Humboldt Academy as a School of Character. To do so, the school must go through an application process with National Schools of Character and meet rigorous standards articulated in the organization’s “11 Principles Framework for Schools.”

The school is partnering with CharacterPlus, a local character education organization, to meet those standards, which prioritize the development of core ethical values, virtues and critical thinking in students and educators.

Quimby is also sending one of her teachers to the Teacher Academy of Character Education. Through this process, she’s learned that it’s crucial that adults in the school realize that they’re constantly modeling behavior to students.

“If we want students to have good character, we have to be demonstrating good character at all times,” she said. “In any job, people get frustrated and sometimes they show that frustration. One of the big things we’re working on is how to help staff model those good character values that we espouse to value together and still be able to address and deal with those issues that get in the way.”

The upcoming school year will be busy, but Quimby knows the work she’s doing at UMSL is vital and will bolster her efforts as principal.

“It helps me grow as a person and as a professional,” she said, “Which then in turn, helps my staff and students wherever I am, as long as I can uphold those value sets and principles.”

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