By Luke Netzley
Pasadena Weekly Deputy Editor

On a normal school day, Frostig School Principal Jenny Tucker Mottes can be found greeting students and families in the parking lot as they arrive in the morning.

She walks the hallways and visits classrooms to support the teachers and students, and often jumps in to help teach classes, following in her mother’s footsteps.

These are some of the many reasons that the National Center for Learning Disabilities has honored Tucker Mottes with its Everyday Champion Award, which recognizes those who have gone above and beyond to support children with learning challenges or differences while distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement came as a shock to Tucker Mottes, who said she strongly believes that educators all around the country worked incredibly hard to do the same things that she did in supporting students and that teamwork was critical to successfully running the school.

“I felt really honored to have that recognition, but I wanted to share it with everybody else because it wasn’t just us fighting this battle — we were all in it together,” Tucker Mottes said. “The nation is full of everyday heroes in the world of education.”

Tucker Mottes moved to the Pasadena area from Ohio as a child. She attended high school in Arcadia and went on to earn her undergraduate degree from Biola University and her master’s degree from Cal State Fullerton. Soon thereafter she started her career in public education as an elementary school teacher and then principal.

“I hit a point in my career where I needed something different,” Tucker Mottes said. “I loved public schools and loved what I was doing, but I was frustrated with not being able to individualize for kids. Then I found Frostig, and it felt like a perfect fit.”

Frostig School has been a leader in the field of learning differences since Dr. Marianne Frostig established it in 1951. The school, which has a second campus in West Los Angeles, provides an individualized education to 120 students in first through 12th grades who have complex learning differences.

“What drew me to work here was the way that the school and the program individualizes to meet the needs of the students so that every student can be successful,” Tucker Mottes said.

She has worked at the Frostig School for the eight years, where she has tirelessly provided Frostig students with a strong academic program while also supporting their social and emotional needs during the pandemic.

“As principal of a small school, Jenny was required to provide leadership on every front of this pandemic, from curriculum development to the design and implementation of protocols for the safe reopening of our campus,” said Dean Conklin, executive director of The Frostig Center.

“I have worked closely with Jenny throughout the pandemic, and I constantly marvel at her infinite optimism and positivity in the face of unprecedented challenges and stresses.”

Tucker Mottes said that the people around her, including the students, families, community and staff, keep her passionate and motivated to come to work each day and go above and beyond to help support the students at Frostig School.

The NCLD described the work that Tucker Mottes has done during the pandemic as both “heroic and outstanding,” but it certainly wasn’t easy, she explained.

“It’s changed the way everybody works,” Tucker Mottes said. “When we were in the middle of the pandemic, we were online and trying to engage students while they were at home. That was really challenging, because a lot of our students struggle with attention and organizational challenges, and to not be there physically to help them was really hard.”

Now that Frostig students have returned to campus, though, the future looks bright, Tucker Mottes revealed.

“There’s so much joy and relief to being back in this shared space,” she said.

The NCLD, based in Washington, D.C., advocates for strong federal policies, convenes experts to discuss pressing issues facing the field, and publishes research and resources to improve practices in schools. The organization names two Everyday Champions for their award, and an educator in Moorestown, New Jersey, won in the teacher category. Tucker Mottes was awarded $5,000 prizes and will be honored virtually at NCLD’s annual benefit on Nov. 9.

Along with finishing her Ph.D. at Claremont Graduate University, Tucker Mottes’ goal for the future remains the same: to nurture her students’ growth, watch them succeed and continue to change lives as principal of Frostig School.