Simmons presents Luminary Award

David Chard, dean of Caldwell-Simmons School of Education, speaks at the award ceremony. Photo credit: Ellen Smith

When The Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development was first created, Dean David Chard was challenged to build a different kind of school. Taking cues from medicine and research, his executive team and faculty decided to build a program based on empirical data — finding tangible and measurable solutions to education.

“Other fields have been evidence based for decades,” Chard said. “Back in the 1900s, we used leeches in medicine and after years of research, we know that doesn’t work. Education [needs] that.”

Chard and his team in the newly-developed school created The Simmons Luminary Award to honor local, regional and national organizations making a meaningful, measurable impact on students and education.

In its fifth year of celebration, The Simmons Luminary Award recognized East Dallas Community Schools, the Texas Association for the Protection of Children, the Children’s Defense Fund and Stand for Children Thursday night.

“We have just grown,” said Yolette Garcia, Simmons Assistant Dean for External Affairs and Outreach. “When we started we had a decent turnout. Now we are over capacity.”

Hundreds of educators, non-profit organizations and SMU supporters are drawn to the annual Luminary event to celebrate the achievements made by individuals in education. This year’s recipients work closely with children living in low-income areas, advocate for Child Protective Services reform and focus on leaving “No Child Behind.”

“All the recipients have been doing their work for decades – some more than 30 years,” Chard said. “Tonight we’re honoring literally the pioneers in the field.”

All the honorees, personally selected by Chard, use evidence to make decisions about their offered programs. The award is two-fold in motivating other non-profits to adopt similar practices and encouraging non-profits to continue using empirical data.

“It’s also about acknowledging our honorees and communicating to the community our values,” Chard said. “There are many that could be awarded, but we look for those that are doing a great job.”

North Texas Honoree, East Dallas Community Schools (EDCS) provides montessori-style education to youth in high-risk, low-income areas in Dallas. Montessoris, typically associated with upper to middle-class youth, give children a head start in education.

There are all kinds of schools in Dallas, but the focus of these schools is to give low-income children the opportunity to have Montessori education,” Garcia said. “It’s a first [for these kids].”

Regional honoree, The Texas Association for the Protection of Children, is a relatively young advocacy group that pushes for Child Protective Services reform in Dallas and across the state. The group supports statewide prevention programs and teaches at-risk families about “positive parenting.”

Simmons recognized a mother-son duo for the national award. Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), and Jonah Edelman, co-founder and CEO of Stand for Children, took home awards for their respective strides in education.

Marian Wright Edelman, inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., started CDF to improve the quality of life for disadvantaged youth through health care, nutrition and education. Jonah, inspired by his mother, founded Stand for Children to improve public education for students from pre-K to college. Garcia said both have had an “enormous effect.”

“When education is under a microscope and there are many stories of failure, [these organizations found] success,” she said. “People leave the awards energized by their story.”

Besides offering attendees encouragement and inspiration, the award ceremony helped raise scholarship money for Simmons students. A new part of the presentation, Simmons solicited funds for endowed, annual and Dean scholarships, ranging from $5,000 to $100,000.

“It’s a way to stay competitive with other schools and give students the opportunity to come here,” Simmons Director of Development Patti Addington said.

Donors dug deep and offered to financially support Simmons’ tradition of growing in academic strength and excellence.

“The Luminary Awards shine an important light on what we need to advance,” Chard said. “Children deserve a healthy childhood and good education.”

For more information on this year’s recipients and past Luminary Award winners, visit Simmons School of Education online at

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