Five Pioneers in Education will be in the spotlight on Monday, August 2, in recognition of their commitment and contributions to public education in Missouri. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will recognize the 2021 Pioneers during the 60th Annual Cooperative Conference for School Administrators. The ceremony will take place during a luncheon with more than 500 school district leaders in attendance.
“These individuals are true champions of public education, striving for excellence and advocating for Missouri students throughout their careers as public servants,” said Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven. “DESE is honored to bring together educators from across the state to recognize the trailblazing efforts of these Pioneers in Education.”
The following individuals will be honored as Pioneers in Education:
- Lynn Beckwith, Jr., Florissant, spent more than 50 years working to educate and bring meaningful change to the lives of students in the St. Louis area, and continues to be a highly respected and sought after mentor. He served as a teacher, principal, Director of Federal Programs, and Executive Director of Federal Programs and Governmental Relations in the St. Louis Public School District; as superintendent at the University City School District; and later as an endowed professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Beckwith currently serves as Chair of the Riverview Gardens Special Administrative Board.
- Nellie Harper, Warsaw, started her 43-year teaching career at just 17 years old when she began leading classes at a rural, one-room school in Benton County in 1948. She later moved on to teach in the Warsaw School District where she worked to implement modern teaching techniques before many of her colleagues, like peer tutoring, cross grade-level tutoring, and a flipped classroom model. Throughout her career, Harper promoted the use of new technology to broaden student learning opportunities.
- J.D. King, Macon, was dedicated to improving the quality of the education students receive and mentoring fellow school leaders. He served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and superintendent at Macon R-I. After 25 years of service at Macon, King came to DESE to work as a DESE area supervisor of instruction in the north central region as the department launched its first cycle of the Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP). King went on to facilitate nearly 150 MSIP reviews.
- Ted Molitor, O’Fallon, retired from the Fort Zumwalt School District after 39 years working as a teacher, coach, and school counselor in his hometown. During his career, Molitor saw Fort Zumwalt grow from less than 300 students to more than 17,000. Along with colleagues, he formed the Gateway Athletic Conference that is still in existence today. He was recently recognized by Fort Zumwalt’s Grow Your Own program, as many of his students have become educators themselves, crediting Molitor’s guidance.
- Cindy O’Brien, Liberty, spent more than 20 years in the Savannah R-III School District where she was the first female assistant principal at high schools in both Savannah and the Kearney School District. A scholarship was established in O’Brien's name at Savannah to benefit aspiring educators, which O’Brien now provides matching funds for out of her own pocket. While officially retired, O’Brien continues to work at Kearney, mentoring new school administrators and helping at-risk students earn their diplomas.
State education officials have presented the Pioneer in Education awards for 46 years, which honor teachers, school administrators, citizens, and lawmakers for their distinguished careers and contributions to public education in Missouri.
Members of the media are welcome to attend the award ceremony on August 2, at 12:15 p.m., in Campana Hall at the Lodge of Four Seasons, Lake Ozark, Mo. Please contact DESE Communications in advance. Headshots for each of the Pioneers in Education are available here, and DESE Communications can arrange interviews with any honoree upon request.