Jamaican-born principal, Dr. Denise Aloma née Wehby, who has been a member of the faculty of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for more than 40 years and its principal for seven years, was recognized by the United States Department of Education with the 2022 Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership. Dr. Aloma was one of nine educators recognized at the National Blue Ribbon Schools Awards Ceremony on November 3 and 4, 2022, in Washington DC.
The award, which is named for the second Secretary of Education of the US, is presented to recognize exemplary school leaders and their critical role in guiding their schools and students toward excellence, often in trying circumstances. It is part of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program, which awards Blue Ribbons to US schools for their overall academic excellence or by closing gaps in achievement among student subgroups. St. Thomas Aquinas High has won three Blue Ribbons in 2022.
Dr. Aloma was nominated for the award on the basis of her commitment to encouraging successful teaching and learning at her school and for doing “whatever it takes” to help her students attain high standards. She was inspired to pursue a career in education by the Mercy Sisters who founded the Convent of Mercy Academy, and by Helen Keller, who she considers a role model. She believes that students today are under more pressure than ever before and are not enjoying the best years of their lives. More should be done to “nurture their hearts,” she said, adding that society must acknowledge the value of teachers or there will be difficulties in finding and retaining high-quality teachers in the future.
Dr. Aloma is the recipient of numerous honors, including the 2021 Power Leader of Education Award from the South Florida Business Journal. She is also an active volunteer with Food for The Poor, Inc, and churches in Jamaica and Trinidad.
Dr. Denise Wehby Aloma is a graduate of the Convent of Mercy Academy “Alpha” in Kingston, Jamaica. She earned her BA in English with a minor in sociology at Canada’s University of Windsor and her MA and Ph.D. degrees in education from Fort Lauderdale’s Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Aloma taught at Mercy Academy “Alpha” before moving to South Florida, and prior to becoming principal at St. Thomas, Dr. Aloma was an English teacher and assistant principal. The Aloma family is very familiar with the school as Dr. Aloma’s husband, Angel Aloma, was a teacher there for 22 years, their three sons are graduates, and their eldest grandson is currently a student there.
Photo – St. Thomas Aquinas High School