Tonya Bellanger

Dawn Cauthen-Thornton | November 15th, 2019
Tonya Bellanger (Photo by Still Shots Photography)

Tonya Bellanger (Photo by Still Shots Photography)

In 1992, Simon Johnson and Cloys Cecil noticed something happening, or rather, not happening, within their community. There were no true educational opportunities serving minority children. They set out to remedy the problem by starting a private school within the walls of Carver Road Church of Christ and though it has grown exponentially and slightly changed academically, its purpose is still the same.

For the first four years of its existence, the school hosted students in Kindergarten thru second grade, taught by one teacher for all grades. In 1996, the charter school movement was introduced and the administrators quickly jumped on board. In 1997, Quality Education Academy was designated as one of the first charter schools in the state of North Carolina, serving grades six through eight.

After three years, the academy was approved to add grades third through fifth, kindergarten through second (transferred from the institute) followed. Currently the academy serves children Kindergarten through twelfth grades. The institute remains a private child care, accepting infants from one year to five years of age. They were able to adopt the slogan, “We take the children from diapers to diploma.”

Co-Founder, Simon Johnson, served as the school’s CEO from its inception in 1992 until his retirement in June 2019, when current CEO Tonya Bellanger, a native of Winston-Salem was named to the role. Bellanger has a long-standing history with the school dating back to its humble beginnings on the church’s grounds. “I was actually a member of the church first. When I was in high school, I needed community service [hours], and would go there to volunteer. When I graduated from UNC-Greensboro in 2006 with a degree in information systems, they hired me as a receptionist,” she explains.

Year after year, Bellanger would set out to learn new skills and try new things to broaden her scope within the school. She briefly worked as a part time computer teacher, then transitioned to the business office and learned about payroll, accounts receivable, human resources, and other processes. In 2014 she earned her MBA from East Carolina University and a year later Bellanger was promoted to the schools Chief Financial Officer position. When Johnson was ready for a new season in his life, he tapped Bellanger to succeed him and carry the torch toward excellence.

Now, the former receptionist leads a team that includes Antonio Stevenson, Director of Operations, Tanya Hinton, Chief Financial Officer Marco Suarez, Chief Academic Officer, Ayshia Martin, School Leader grades K-2nd, Tamara Turner, School Leader grades 3rd – 5th, Nicole Stowe, Middle School Leader grades 6th -8th, and Tony Howard, High School Leader grades 9th – 12th. Each leader heads their respective schools but ultimately work together to create an educational space where shades of brown faces can thrive.

Marco Suarez has been with QEA for nine years, and five of those as the CAO. The Venezuelan native devotes his time to academic achievement and training and developing the staff. Ensuring that the teachers are equipped with the knowledge to help each student succeed is Suarez’s number one priority.

Grades Kindergarten through second are led by Ayshia Martin, who has also maximized her time at QEA. She began as a contract employee in 2012 and is now a school leader. “What makes K-2 at ‘the Q’ remarkable, is simply how much our scholars teach us. Their lessons run far deeper than trendy dances, slang phrases, and technology fads. I see the true embodiment of the vision set forth by our CEO up close and personal. And our values, beliefs, and traditions shared by all really bind us together to create a genuine sense of unity,” Martin explains.

Tamara Turner is the Chief Development Officer and also leads grades 3rd-5th where they’re currently focused on novel studies, completing up to nine novels each year, per class. She feels that the critical part of reading comprehension development is the cornerstone for mastering all other disciplines. Out of the countless opportunities she admires about QEA, she loves that the school exposes young scholars to college early, starting in Kindergarten, with annual college tours.

The middle school, grades 6th-8th, are under the direction of Nicole Stowe who has been a part of the QEA family for eight years. Beginning as a middle school science teacher, she progressed in the organization within four years to become a school leader. She values the amazing scholars within her grade group just as much as her team of dedicated teachers that serve them. “Our scholars come in everyday, ready to tackle whatever their teacher has planned. They know that college is the goal, so they start their day chanting, ‘I CAN, I WILL, I MUST! WE ARE QEA STRONG!’

To start preparing older students for life beyond the walls of QEA, Tony Howard is proud to lead 9th-12th grades. “We thrive on maintaining a place of intellectual freedom, where scholars critically navigate a world of knowledge at their own pace. Our high school is a place where exposure and opportunity are not predicted by zip code and where our visions are produced from a lens of equity.”

Each school leader has earned or is working toward a master’s degree in their respective disciplines with one currently pursuing a doctorate degree, proving that a ‘quality education’ is imperative to give their students the best and brightest leadership. The total staff at QEA has exceeded 100 members, growing tremendously from 1997 when there was one. A large percentage of the instructors are African American or Hispanic, representative of their student population.
“We feel that it’s important for our scholars to see teachers who look like them. It makes a difference,” says Bellanger.

The academy operates like a regular public school, adhering to certain rules and regulations, but has its own board of directors that govern it. It also offers a myriad of sports, like basketball, soccer, tennis, and just recently, a football team. The curriculum has a liberal arts focus, offering dance, arts education, chorus, and now STEM with 3D printing options.

With Bellanger now at the helm, she is looking forward to sustaining the expectation of excellence from both students and instructors while increasing test scores, the school’s report card grade, and growing it’s overall visibility in the community

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