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Shantha Smith, an education coordinator at Gunston Middle School, has been named a recipient of the 2020 Mary Peake Award for Excellence in Education by the state government.

Awards were presented Dec. 3 in Richmond, and were named after a pioneering African-American educator.

Smith “advocates for equity in student outcomes and opportunities at the school level and has initiated professional development in culturally responsive pedagogy for teachers in her school,” state officials said, noting her previous efforts as a reading teacher at Gunston and efforts at narrowing achievement gaps among student groups.

Also honored at the ceremony were Hampton Public Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Smith (School Leader); Bernard Hairston, Lars Holmstrom, Leilani Keys and Ayanna Mitchell of Albemarle County Public Schools (Stakeholder Group or School Division Team); and Norfolk School Board member Rodney Jordan (Policymaker).

“It is people like you who make Virginia a more open, welcoming and inclusive place to live, work and learn,” Gov. Northam said at the event. “Each of you embody the spirit of Mary Peake through your leadership and dedication to ensuring that all Virginia students receive an equitable education, from preschool to higher education. You strive to ensure that Virginia’s education system works for every student, every day.”

Mary Peake was a Norfolk native who secretly taught slaves and free African-Americans to read when doing so was prohibited by Virginia law. In 1861, Peake began a school near Fort Monroe for the children of formerly enslaved persons. The tree under which she taught — known as the Emancipation Oak — still stands on the campus of Hampton University.

[Sun Gazette Newspapers provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]

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