Five Pioneers in Education will be in the spotlight on Monday, July 31, in recognition of their commitment and contributions to public education in Missouri. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will recognize the 2023 Pioneers during the 62nd Annual Cooperative Conference for School Administrators. The ceremony will take place during a luncheon with more than 600 school leaders in attendance.
“These individuals are champions for public education in Missouri, striving for excellence and advocating for students throughout their careers,” said Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven. “DESE is honored to recognize the hard work and dedication of these Pioneers in Education.”
The following individuals will be honored as Pioneers in Education:
- Audrey Brown-Mitchell, Crystal City, got her first job in education with the Jefferson County Special Services Co-op as a developmental language teacher. In 1985, Audrey was hired as a special education teacher in the Fox C-6 School District, where she remained for the rest of her 31-year career. Audrey worked as an assistant principal before taking the role of building leader, becoming the first Black principal in the Fox C-6 School District and in the entire region — from Jefferson County to Cape Girardeau. During her time as an administrator, Audrey integrated special education students into traditional grade level classes to audit science and social studies. It gave the special education students the opportunity to be with their peers to learn concepts without pressure, while also being immersed in a classroom climate of age-appropriate behaviors. Audrey retired as principal in 2007 and has continued to serve students and schools as a substitute teacher since then.
- Maxine Clark, St. Louis, is the founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop and an advocate for public education in Missouri. In 1997, Maxine founded Build-A-Bear Workshop, a teddy bear themed retail-entertainment experience. In 2013, she stepped down from her role as Chief Executive Bear to apply her entrepreneurial skills to her passion for improving K-12 public education. Clark is working to make public education more consumer friendly by creating more access for families and students to systems and supports that enrich each child’s learning experience. Launched in 2015, her first product, Blueprint4SummerSTL, is a free and easy-to-use tool designed to help all families navigate the best summer activities and pre-college programs for their children. Maxine is currently serving on the State Board of Education’s Blue Ribbon Commission, which is trying to find solutions to the current teacher recruitment and retention challenges in Missouri.
- Shirley Cummins, Neosho, was born and raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma before moving to Neosho, Missouri with her husband. Shirley found her “home” when she moved to Neosho High School to teach 10-12th grade. She then moved into the role of assistant high school principal and then high school principal a couple years later. While principal, she was awarded the Missouri School Counselor Association’s award for Administrator of the Year in 2004. Shirley established and co-authored the first Career Ladder Plan for the district, and she was awarded a state grant to establish the first computer writing lab in southwest Missouri. She introduced the first Caring Communities Initiative to Neosho and co-founded an incentive program for students and teachers.
- Dr. Bernard (Bernie) J. DuBray, O’Fallon, spent most of his 54-year career in public education in the Fort Zumwalt School District where he started as an assistant superintendent in 1982. He then assumed the role of superintendent, where he remained until his retirement in 2023. With 38 years at the helm, he currently holds the record for the longest-serving superintendent in one district in the state of Missouri. Dr. DuBray was heavily involved in the construction of new facilities as the district underwent unprecedented growth in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He was instrumental in passing bond issues and tax levies throughout his career that were needed to help meet the demands of the school district’s growing population. Since 1985, the community has approved $500 million in no-tax increase bonds, which translates to numerous improved opportunities for students, three high schools, two middle schools, nine elementary schools, an Early Childhood Center, and the Mike Clemens Center for Adaptive Learning.
- Dr. Roger Dorson, Salisbury, first served as a basketball coach and history teacher in Macon, Missouri, where he stayed for 10 years before becoming a principal and later superintendent in the Princeton R-V School District. After three years, he moved to the Salisbury R-IV School District where he served for 18 years before retiring and joining DESE as the Director of School Finance. He served at DESE as the Coordinator of School Governance and Deputy Commissioner of Financial and Administrative Services. Dr. Dorson is remembered for his steadfast leadership as interim commissioner of education from December 2017 to January 2019. Dr. Dorson then returned to his deputy commissioner role, which he retired from in 2020.
State education officials have presented the Pioneer in Education awards for 48 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 July 31, 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 honorees upon request.