Alma Exley Scholars are making a difference in many ways

It’s always to pleasure to learn about new developments in the careers of the students whom we have honored over the past 15 years.

The latest news to come my way was that Vernon-James Riley, our 2008 honoree, has taken a new position as Director of Operations at Amani Public Charter School, a new school created to make a difference for children in the predominantly poor South Side of Mount Vernon, N.Y.

In this position, he has responsibility for finance, facilities, human resources, purchasing, external affairs and fundraising. He is staging an open house and fundraiser on Wednesday, Nov. 9, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. For more information, contact Mr. Riley at or check out the school’s website at

By the way, those of you who attended the reception when we honored Mr. Riley will remember his charming, elegant grandmother, Mrs. Ruby Riley, who came up from Harlem for the occasion. Vernon reports that she turned 91 this year, is in good health and good spirits, and has set her sights on 100.

Mr. Riley is exemplary of the great job that our dedicated, diverse selection committee has done over the years. As I write this, the committee is eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new batch of applications by the Oct. 31 deadline.

We’re always impressed by the talent and commitment of the students who apply. And we’re always frustrated that we can recognize only one of the outstanding applicants from the traditional teacher-preparation programs. We look forward to the time when the endowment is large enough to support the awarding of multiple scholarships.

Looking back over the 15 years since we awarded the first Alma Exley Scholarship, it’s rewarding to realize that nearly all of our recipients remain in education. This is noteworthy since almost one-third of America’s teachers leave the field during their first three years of teaching, and almost half leave after five years. The attrition rate among those who enter teaching through an “alternative” pathway is even higher.

Four recipients have assumed positions of educational leadership. Another is pursuing a Ph.D. in educational leadership. Others are having an impact as teachers in the fields of science, English, social studies, special education, Spanish and elementary education.

To the best of my knowledge, the only recipient who has left teaching is Priscilla Noriega, a Yale graduate from Brownsville, Tex., who taught for two years before enrolling at the University of Texas Law School. Although she is not teaching, her position as a lawyer with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid enables her to advocate for students with regard to special education services and discipline issues. In this role, she continues to serve students in her home area of South Texas.

Needless to say, I’m proud of all of our outstanding recipients who are doing such important work. You can learn about all of them by clicking here to view our Previous Recipients page.

– Woody Exley

Posted October 19, 2011