Posted Online: Dec. 06, 2012, 10:37 pm

Marshall principal to get USA Network award

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By John Marx,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: John Marx
This mural that honors the Tuskegee Airmen is part of a project done by students at Rock Island's Thurgood Marshall Learning Center.
Phillip Ambrose, principal of Thurgood Marshall Learning Center, Rock Island.
Please note that today's sermonette has a biased slant, for I am a big fan of Phil Ambrose, principal of Rock Island's Thurgood Marshall Learning Center.

It's never "me'' with Ambrose -- it's always "we.''

And "we,'' as a community, are lucky to have him.

USA Network got it right in naming Ambrose one of its 2012 Characters Unite Award winners. He was nominated by local Mediacom representatives.

He's one of 10 people nationwide who will be honored by the cable-TV network "for their extraordinary efforts to combat prejudice and discrimination and increase tolerance and acceptance in their communities," according to

Today, during a luncheon at Thurgood Marshall, Ambrose, staff and students will be honored. The school, thanks to Ambrose's selection and its Tuskegee Airmen Project, will receive a $5,000 grant from USA Network.

Like all good leaders, Ambrose downplays his role. He says Marshall students -- many in a last-chance school setting -- often take part in projects designed to increase awareness of diversity, tolerance and respect through innovative cross-curricular activities.

He lauds the dedication and commitment of Marshall staffers and the Rock Island school district for support and guidance. It is, as Ambrose says at every turn, "Never about me.''

For the school's Tuskegee Airmen Project, students studied how America's first squadron of African-American pilots overcame prejudice to achieve their goal of fighting for their country. After that starting point came hundreds of hours spent compiling data, discussion upon discussion of the Tuskegee Airmen's contributions to America's successful World War II effort and the creation of a gorgeous mural. It is a project Marshall students took to with pride and enthusiasm.

"It was a tremendous effort, proving success comes with a unified and dedicated front,'' Ambrose said. "It began with a single topic, designed to meet the criteria of being flexible, responsive and relevant. There is more work in many other areas to be done, but we have the students capable of great things.''

Ambrose's ability to guide and motivate young people is not lost on those who work alongside him.

"Mr. Ambrose is a true visionary leader. With the Tuskegee Project, he attracted key people, inspired them with his vision and led them to achieve something meaningful and great. He is a 21st-century leader,'' said Steve Van De Walle, behavior interventionist at Marshall.

It should be noted there is no gray area with Ambrose. You know where you stand with him and what he expects. You also know he will match the desire of students and staffers to improve each day, in and out of the classroom.

"Mr Ambrose's style is direct; he makes clear the mission and paints a pathway for a successful outcome,'' said Greg Williams, Marshall building supervisor. "Mr. Ambrose allows teachers and staff to have meaningful input on student and building matters, while holding and standing firm against ideologies that cause rippling effects in an otherwise peaceful environment. He cuts through to the chase. Students are empowered to offer feedback and suggestions to improve their school.''

As much as Ambrose wants today's honor to not be about him, it must be in some way. And it will be, though it will be a ceremony of deflection by him and praise for others. And that's OK.

Phil Ambrose gets it, knowing "we'' is always better than "me.''
Columnist John Marx can be reached at (309) 757-8388 or