PRN Alumni Highlight: Meet Simona Simpson-Thomas PRN '20, CEO of Freedom Dreams

Do you know Simona Simpson-Thomas?  You are lucky if you do. Simona is a skillful, creative leader with a deep sense of purpose. Simona graduated from CLEE’s Principal Residency Network (PRN) in 2020. During her PRN year, she was a district administrator with Providence Public Schools and an aspiring principal at Hope High School. Her graduation in 2020, career shifts, and the pandemic allowed Simona to have some space to pause and reflect on the questions: What do I want to learn and what do I want to level up?  Using her experience as a former classroom teacher, district and building administrator, and community member, Simona started to see both the assets and the possibilities in education. Her reflection provided her a clear direction for the next stage of her career - school leadership in the form of entrepreneurship. Freedom Dreams was created.

Here are a few highlights of what Simona is up to since PRN graduation:

  1. Simona has worked alongside Central Falls educators and community members to re-engage students who were most disengaged in the pandemic.  The main strategy was to galvanize community members with their varied and unique skill sets to work in partnership with youth to find meaningful pathways to their success. In partnership with the Highlander Institute, Simona worked to design a hub model where students could receive extra support, mentorship, develop academic mindsets,  and expand the thoughts and possibilities of their future.  

  2. Simona also partnered with the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Highlander Institute to lead a large initiative in training members of the community to become certified substitute teachers.  She saw the vast amount of people who were untapped resources who were ready to serve.  

  3. On the horizon, SImona will be working with the Rhode Island Foundation to facilitate community conversations on how to diversify pathways in the field of education.  

Simona’s skill set in design thinking, project based learning, academic mindsets, creating post secondary goals as a learner re-engagement strategy, and centering Black and Brown students who in every part of her career Simona has observed have been most marginalized by the educational system.  Simona’s time in the PRN further developed her ability to use an equity lens with data to engage in cycles of continuous improvement.  She believes that continuous improvement is essential in every organization and every role.  She also uses CLEE’s equity-sustaining Core Leadership Practices of Setting Direction, Monitoring Progress, Building Capacity to Teach, Collaborate, Lead, and Reorganizing Systems.  These practices allow her to be intentional, future forward, and innovative while being in constant pursuit of building capacity in herself and others.  

Asked about the advice she would give to current and future Aspiring Principals in the PRN,  with a laugh, she said, “trust the process”.  She remembers when many times she didn’t want to or didn’t think she could trust the process. Yet, her experience in the PRN was transformative and has led her to create lasting and joyful learning experiences for students who are most marginalized, in turn creating more equitable experiences for all.  “Change is possible when the right mindsets are involved.” Simona’s deep skill and leadership would make her an asset to any and every community. To partner or connect with Simona, you can contact her through her website Freedom Dreams

Are you interested or do you know someone who would be interested in the Principal Residency Network? Sign up and pass along information to our upcoming info sessions.