AAIS Lifetime Leadership Award
Over 50 teachers and administrators from Saint James School attended the biennial conference of the Alabama Association of Independent Schools (AAIS) held at Randolph School in Huntsville, Alabama, March 15 and 16, 2015. During the conference, the AAIS President, Palmer Kennedy of Advent Episcopal School in Birmingham, surprised Mrs. Richardson with the AAIS Lifetime Leadership Award. Mr. Kennedy remarked that even though Mrs. Richardson’s administration career path took her out of the classroom on a daily basis, she has never stopped being a teacher and a mentor. He commented on the many learning experiences he has had over the years personally with Mrs. Richardson, and he cited the many contributions Mrs. Richardson has made over the last 30 years toward the advancement of independent schools throughout the state. The award was presented to Mrs. Richardson in front of a standing ovation of her peers and colleagues who represent independent schools throughout the state of Alabama. The excerpt below appeared in the conference program.
Mrs. Melba B. Richardson is currently the Head of School at Saint James School in Montgomery. She has served in this capacity since August 2008, but that was certainly not the beginning of her Saint James career. She began as a middle school English teacher in 1983, and has held several positions over the last three decades at STJ. Melba was the Chair of the Saint James English department from 1985 until 1989, when she became the Middle School Principal. In 1998, she accepted the appointment of Academic Dean for all grades at Saint James. In the summer of 2008, Melba transitioned into the interim headmaster position at Saint James and was named the permanent Head of School in December 2008.
Prior to Saint James, Melba and her husband Dr. William (Bill) Richardson lived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and in Maryville, Tennessee, where she taught as an English and History teacher. They have been married for 48 years and have two children, William (married to Angie Adams Richardson) and Mary Catherine (married to Scott Phillips). Dr. and Mrs. Richardson's greatest moments in life include their three grandchildren, Will, Sarah Jane, and Sarah Elizabeth. Even with her demanding schedule, they travel to Birmingham often to attend sports events, dance recitals, and family events with their son and his family, and they take every opportunity they can to spend time with their toddler granddaughter, daughter, and son-in-law in Montgomery.
In reviewing Melba's professional career, it is quite apparent that her heart is deeply connected with middle school students and the developmental stages of adolescents. From her masters degree to after-graduate courses, and association memberships, Melba is a devoted advocate for middle schoolers. She developed the first "true middle school" in Montgomery at Saint James and its success has served as a model for other area schools for well over 20 years. Another passion of Melba's is arts education in the classroom; she brought the concept to Saint James in the early 1990s, and the school has been the area leader since that time. Recently, Melba drove the initiative for Saint James to become a more forward-moving and visionary school in terms of technology in the classroom, and pre-college major instruction. She coordinated visits to other schools in the southeast to see their technology and collaborative learning efforts, made a trip to Cupertino, California, and ultimately partnered with Apple. In the winter of 2014, Melba was thrilled for Saint James to be named an Apple Distinguished School, an honor given to less than 200 schools across the nation. In addition, Melba led the charge to develop and offer a menu of 14 pre-college major electives, including courses for Pre-Law, Music Technology, Robotics and Pre-Engineering, and more.
As evidenced by her robust resume, Melba's career is overflowing with professional awards, designations, memberships, and personal and civic affiliations. But, it is her attention to the minute details that truly makes her the leader she is. She walks the STJ 60+ acre campus regularly to keep a close eye on the grounds; she meets regularly with the faculty and administration to keep her finger on the pulse of the school; she greets the students as they arrive in the mornings; and she and Bill attend as many extracurricular student activities that they can. She is very visible to the students on campus and is always available to the parents. She speaks genuinely from her heart when she addresses the students and parents. And she makes note of the achievements of each student - whether its by clipping a newspaper article and sending it to them or making note of it in her weekly email address. The students, parents, faculty, and administration know she is always thinking of their best interest, above all else. Her commitment to the education of young people is at the core of every decision she makes, and it shows - through the success of the school, the students, and the faculty.
Melba often speaks to groups of parents and draws on her own experiences of raising children. Because she and Bill were both educators, they believed an effective education was paramount. She often says they knew that a good education was not to be viewed as a family expense, but rather an investment, in the future. Melba's mark is indelible at Saint James and with those who have known her, learned from her, and worked with her. In fact, long after her retirement, she will be remembered for the simple but powerful school mantra she coined, "We are Saint James School."
Melba's leadership within the Alabama Association of Independent Schools has been significant and impactful, and we wish her the very best as she moves to her next adventure!