Beloved Maxfield principal Zelma Wiley, 49

  • Article by: JAMES WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2007 - 9:35 PM

Wiley, who had raised test scores and expectations at Maxfield Magnet, died just a week before the start of the school year. Her death is "a huge loss to the students."

Zelma Wiley, the popular principal of Maxfield Magnet Elementary School in St. Paul, died Tuesday. She was 49.

Wiley had been hospitalized since early August, when she suffered a brain aneurysm, said Cleva Jobe, interim principal at the school. Wiley died less than a week before the first day of classes.

"It is a huge loss to the students and to the community," Jobe said. "She was a wonderful person."

And an effective principal.

Since taking over at Maxfield in the 2002-03 school year, Wiley helped make significant gains at an inner city school long beset by poverty and lowered expectations. During her time at Maxfield, the school of about 350 mostly poor, mostly minority students saw test scores rise. Last year, Maxfield showed enough sustained improvement in reading and math to get off the underperforming-schools list for the first time in several years.

Wiley, an energetic woman known for greeting children at the front door with hugs and a smile, once even kissed a live pig as a reward for her students reading 18,000 books in a school year.

During her tenure, Maxfield built its music program, its after-school program and its gifted and talented offerings. Through community donations, she helped fill the school's library with books. The number of community members volunteering at the school was on the rise.

"She had such a passion for the students and the faculty here, setting the stage for them to do well," said Jobe, who started as interim principal Aug. 6.

Wiley started working in the St. Paul Public Schools in 1989 as an education assistant. She obtained her teaching license through the Collaborative Urban Educator (CUE) program and took her first teaching job at Dayton's Bluff Elementary. She later worked as a CUE mentor and coordinator before becoming an assistant principal at Benjamin Mays Elementary School.

St. Paul Superintendent Meria Carstarphen sent a letter to staff, saying: "Zelma will be greatly missed. She displayed deep care and concern for the children and families she worked with, and she provided outstanding leadership at Maxfield."

Information on funeral arrangements is pending.

James Walsh • 651-298-1541

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