Ypsilanti Community Schools superintendent wins national humanitarian award

Earlier this month, the School Superintendents Association (AASA) recognized Ypsilanti Community Schools Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross as one of two recipients of the Dr. Effie H. Jones Humanitarian Award. The annual recognition is awarded to “education leaders committed to the advancement and mentorship of women and people of color, and/or addressing social justice issues in schools,” according to a press release on the website of AASA, formerly known as the American Association of School Administrators.

“This whole award is about removing barriers,” Zachery-Ross says. “It makes me proud to know that the work that I’m doing is making an impact on others.”

Zachery-Ross has been in education since 1995, and has been YCS' superintendent since 2018. Beyond her work at YCS, she also mentors aspiring superintendents through both the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators and the Institute for Education Innovation, a New York-based organization.

“We support each other, talk through scenarios that we face, and reflect on challenges women may experience through the work day,” she explains of her mentorship work with women. “We give ourselves peer-to-peer partners to encourage one another and understand the myths we need to break.”

Mentorship is just one reason Zachery-Ross was chosen for the award. She also actively participates in YCS' restorative circles program, which is designed for students and families to directly communicate with her and school staff on school practices they would like to see changed. She also works directly with a student superintendent advisory board, whose members raise issues YCS students would like to see addressed at school.

“We have to be honest and real when things don’t work, apologize, and fix those things,” Zachery-Ross says. “If folks want to see something changed, we offer choices and agency in our district.”

Through these programs, as well as through school curriculum, Zachery-Ross hopes to increase students' and families' access to her and other school administrators to support equity for everyone in the school system. She says the award also shows the devotion of the rest of YCS’ administrative and educational staff.

“This award really embodies YCS’s embodiment of the motto ‘stronger together,’” she says. “It shows that as the schools, the families, and the community work together hand in hand, we can continue to build and improve.”

To learn more about the Dr. Effie H. Jones Humanitarian Award, visit AASA’s website.

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.

Photo by Doug Coombe.
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