City: Little Rock
Category: Nonprofit Executive of the Year
"The success of Access Schools will always be my greatest accomplishment," said Simmons, who was a speech therapist with Easter Seals when she and a co-worker dreamed up the idea for the original preschool program that allows speech-delayed children to learn alongside typical children.
"It is extremely important for young children to have models in their age group so they know what to imitate," Simmons said.
"I have been involved in creating a fabulous curriculum that will help students for years to come."
As executive director, she oversees 40 employees serving 90 students. There is one teacher for every three students.
"I set high goals for achievement and quality. I then surround myself with the most highly qualified, talented people in the industry to help me make this happen," she said.
But there is more than academics involved in running a school that relies primarily on Medicaid funding and charitable gifts, and never was the business more tested than when the time came to move Access Schools from the cramped, make-shift classrooms in what was supposed to be an office building to the wide-open spaces of a converted church.
To accomplish the move, which was necessary in order to continue adding faculty and students, Access Schools undertook a fund-raising campaign that brought in more than $500,000 in 2001. The organization's total revenue last year was more than $1.8 million, which was double the 2000 level.
Simmons is a member of The Church at Rock Creek, and the business executive she most admires is Sam Walton because he "stuck to his roots."
"Mr. Walton wanted to change something, but he didn't let that change him," Simmons said.