Profile: Cleaster Mims
Bachelor of Arts in Communications, 1971; Master of Education, 1976
Founder, Cleaster Mims College Preparatory School
Enterprising Start | Mims, who grew up in Enterprise, Ala., attended Tuskegee University for one year before dropping out because of a lack of funds. “I came to Cincinnati because there were no jobs for me in the South at that time if you did not have a college degree. So I came here to live with an aunt to work.”
Early Education | She wound up working with Cincinnati Public Schools in the business manager’s office, as secretary to the controller. She later married and had a son. When he was 2 years old, she enrolled him in preschool and started taking classes at Xavier. The year was 1966, before women could officially enroll, but she was able to attend as a non-traditional student. Not only was she one of a handful of women, but she was also the first African-American female on campus.
Continuing Education | Mims found that the students, most of whom were about 6 to 8 years younger, were intrigued by her experiences during the Civil Rights Era. “Frequently, we would gather in the dining room over in the cafeteria, and they would just gather around me and ask me questions about things. It was an extension of the classroom, our discussions.”
Behind the Name | Mims made a career of teaching high school English in the Cincinnati Public Schools. She also taught a speech communications course every Wednesday night at Xavier for a number of years. Mims retired from the public school system in 1991 to found the Marva Collins Preparatory School, recently renamed Cleaster Mims College Prep, a private school for children from pre-K to eighth grade. “We started the school with volunteers.” Mims still volunteers her services today.
Track Record | The school focuses on interactive learning in the classroom, use of the Socratic method and phonics. “We have found that 100 percent of students who start with us in pre-K and go all the way to eighth grade have gone on to highly selective schools and are in college, or are on their way to college.”
Developing Her Destiny | Today the school has about 50 or 60 children, down from 250 in 2001, which Mims attributes to the economic downturn, but she’s slowly rebuilding enrollment. “I think sometimes it was my destiny to do this. I had been through hard times in my life and to develop this school took a lot of patience, a lot of fortitude, a lot of frugality, which I had.”
Daily Joy | “People ask me, ‘How can you do this for so long?’ It’s because I wake up in the morning excited about what I’m going to face during the day. There’s nothing greater than to see a 3-year-old running down the hall to my office and saying, ‘Mrs. Mims! I can read!’ And then you pick them up and sit them on your lap and have them read to you, and then you make a big
to-do over that, as if they just had a birthday party.”