Education Posts

From Gangster to Scholar: How A Teacher Transformed My Life

From Gangster to Scholar: How A Teacher Transformed My Life

By Dr. Debbie Emery

9 years ago

1 comment



At age 13, Stanley Leone was a hardcore gun-wielding veteran of violence, drugs, and incarcerations. By high school, he was a fearless gang leader, drug dealer, and street thug charged with felony assault. Stanley said, “I remember the police came to my school, handcuffed me, and took me to jail. Beneath my bad-boy talk, I was hurting. I was insecure and scared.”

Sadly, for kids like Stanley the future was almost guaranteed to be filled with addiction, jail, and most likely an early death from gang-related violence.

Until, that is, he met a teacher who saw his potential and engaged Stanley in an amazingly transformational way. In his senior year, he met Monda Simmons and everything changed. Stanley shares, “She was a small lady. I tried to dog her. But she wasn’t having it. She looked up at me and said, ‘Beneath your thuggish ways, Son, I see a champion.’ When she said that, I started crying like a baby. She saw what I’d been hiding all those years.”

Stanley’s message to teachers and administrators is, “You do make a difference in children’s lives.” He credits Simmons with helping him turn his life of tragedy and violence into a message of inspiration and hope.

“I can honestly say, if it were not for Monda Simmons and the Flippen program, I would be in jail or dead.”
Stanley not only completed high school with a 4.0 GPA, but went on to graduate magna cum laude from St. Xavier University in Chicago. He recently earned his Master of Arts in educational leadership and administration, graduating summa cum laude from Concordia College.

In this webinar, Stanley Leone will guide you through his journey from drug-dealing gangster with a dark and abusive home life to an awarded scholar, thanks to a genuinely invested teacher. She applied a simple 5-step process to reach Stanley when everyone else had given up on him. Monda Simmons stepped into his world and opened the door to a whole new life.

3 Vitally Important Things You’ll Learn:

  1. Unique insight and perspective from a former drug-dealing gangster-turned-scholar about reaching not only “at risk” children, but “any” student on your campus and in your classrooms.
  2. The 5 specific steps Stanley’s teacher implemented to make this transformation possible, which you and your teachers can apply, as well.
  3. The inspiration and next steps to take what you learn from Stanley and turn it into practical application at the campus and classroom level.

Dr. Debbie Emery

Dr. Debbie Emery is a Leadership Process Executive with Flippen Group and brings her passion for teaching, leading and coaching to our team as a trainer and consultant. Born and raised in Texas, she has served in public education for 30 years, the last seven as an associate superintendent in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, one of the largest districts in the country. As a campus principal and district administrator, she learned firsthand the difference Flippen processes could make for her team, and these experiences continue to help her coach others. She received both a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Houston. She also received a master’s degree in library science from Sam Houston State University, where she taught ‘The Role of the Principal’ to future administrators. Dr. Emery and her husband, Karl, live in Houston, Texas, and enjoy spending time with family and friends and traveling to exciting places. She looks forward to spending time with the students and staff at Emery Elementary in the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, a school named in her honor.

1 response to "From Gangster to Scholar: How A Teacher Transformed My Life"

  1. Joe P says:


    I will never forget the impact you had on my students when you visited our high school in Kentwood, Michigan a few years ago. Thanks for speaking words of hope and reminding us to be intentional. I wanted to be a better teacher because of you. Andrew, one of my students, was forever changed that day you spoke to our students. Your story had many similarities to Andrew’s. He told our class that day, “If Stanley could do it, than I can, too.” Andrew was in 9th grade then, he graduated a couple of years ago.

    Thanks for making this world a better place,


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