Jerrelle Irene Francois, a retired Forest Park High School principal and well-regarded member of the Baltimore City school board, died Dec. 25 of stroke complications at Seasons Hospice. She was 83 and lived in Lauraville and later in Southeast Baltimore.
Born in Baltimore, she was the daughter of Preston Foster Sr., a self-employed builder and his wife, Elizabeth Edmonds. She was a 1954 graduate of Dunbar High School and earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree at Morgan State University.
Colleagues said Ms. Francois dedicated her life to teaching and learning.
She began her teaching career at Cherry Hill Junior High School in 1958. She became mathematics department head at the Booker T. Washington School in West Baltimore and was later named principal of Chinquapin Middle School and West Baltimore Middle School, formerly Rock Glen Junior High School.
The Greater Baltimore Committee named her one of three “outstanding principals” in the city in 1984. At a banquet at a downtown hotel, then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer and school superintendent Alice G. Pinderhughes congratulated her.
A 1984 Sun article said she was “known as a tough disciplinarian” who inspired the loyalty of her staff, many of whom transferred with her as she rotated around the school system.
“The one thing I am the most proud of is that through my efforts the staff has come to see me as the instructional leader,” she said in The Sun, adding that running a school was far more involved than fixing window shades and heating systems.
Ms. Francois went on to be named principal of Forest Park High School in 1985.
She then served in school administration and was an executive assistant to then-Superintendent Richard C. Hunter. Before retiring in 1992, she was an assistant superintendent for secondary schools.
She immediately became an adjunct faculty member at Coppin State University and Morgan State University.
She also coordinated field supervisors for the Resident Teacher Certification Program at the University of Maryland, as well as coordinating secondary education field supervision at Morgan State.
Ms. Francois became executive director of Sylvan Education Solutions in 1995 and was later a consultant at Learn It Systems. She retired a second time in 2007.
She was appointed to the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners in 2004 and was named vice chair in 2005.
Ms. Francois was a vocal member of the school board. In 2013 she voiced skepticism about charter schools, whose mission statements did not seem to her to be different from those of neighborhood public schools.
"A lot of things they said they want to do, we already have in a lot of our traditional schools," she said in a 2013 Baltimore Sun article. “I want to know how they are different.”
Colleagues recalled that she enjoyed visiting with city pupils and encouraged them to value learning, study and hard work. They said she wanted children to get a sound education and believed that students could learn and succeed.
“She was an influential member of the school board because of her strong passion about education and belief that kids could succeed if given the right tools,” said James “Jim” Campbell, a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates. “She was a bit of disciplinarian, too. I recall she called out to two students. She told them to pull up their pants and tuck their shirts in. They said, ‘Yes ma’am.’”
In 2009 she visited Abbottston Elementary School with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and other officials.
She served on a 1998 Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies panel that investigated public education in Baltimore.
“She was a pillar of the church,” said Stacey Holt, a cousin who is the church secretary. "She taught Sunday school and had high standards. She sang in our choir and was really well respected. She was lively and if she could help you, she would."
Ms. Francois received the 2012 School Board Member of the Year Award from the National Alliance of Black School Educators. She also was the recipient of the 2011 Charles W. Willis Award from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. The award was given for “outstanding contributions to school board service in Maryland.” The award described her as “a driving force on the School Board, serving it with the fervor only the most highly engaged Board member can exhibit.”
She was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
She married Malcolm Joseph Francois, a native of New Orleans who enjoyed cooking, on May 9, 1970. They lived for many years on Mainfield Avenue in the Lauraville section of Northeast Baltimore. In her free time, Ms. Francois read, danced and entertained. She and her husband enjoyed auto trips to Littleton, North Carolina.
Survivors include an adopted daughter, Veronica Jones of Harford County; a brother, Preston Foster Jr. of Reisterstown; a sister, Selena Redd of Baltimore; a grandson; and a great-grandson. Her husband of 43 years died in 2013.