LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Jeffrey Nealer

Position: Production Manager
School: DeKalb School of the Arts
School District: DeKalb County School District
City, State: Avondale Estates, GA

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Music that Describes Jeffrey


Jeffrey "Mongo" Nealer was nominated by his colleague, Anna Dunn.

Mongo - the man, the myth, the legend. Mongo is so much more than an educator and production manager. He is almost an idea. He's the spirit of DeKalb School of the Arts (DSA). It may not be named for him, but he embodies DSA's highest award, the White Boa. This award symbolizes perseverance, resilience, and doing the right thing when no one is watching and without seeking glory. Mongo serves DSA with all of his heart, soul, and mind.

He goes far beyond just teaching the curriculum. He teaches real world skills, such as how to write a resume, get a job, prepare an audition/portfolio, apply for college, stay organized, goal planning, etc. His students say that he is the teacher to go to for career advice, in any field. The students recognize that he spends a lot of his personal time finding additional opportunities to develop new skills that they are interested in and need. Mongo knows so many things about so many different subjects, and he loves to share his knowledge and learning with students and staff. His love of learning is inspiring.

Students see him as a mentor and appreciate that he treats them like adults, with respect, and prepares them for the real world. His stage managers say, “He never does anything for us, and he makes us do it ourselves. He steps back to let us grow and fail, and he steps in when it gets too much. Mongo pushes us almost to our breaking point, but he knows when to step in and give support.”

According to Mongo's stage managers, one of their most memorable moments was when he spent a whole class period talking to students to see how he could adapt class to make it more meaningful. His students know the work has to get done, but he is constantly adapting plans to fit students’ needs, whether it's by helping them with a math test, teaching resilience after failure, or helping with tension/stress management. He cares for his students, makes sure they are eating well, encourages them to sleep, and helps them make safe, healthy choices while they are working hard. He provides a safe space and sounding board for advice and new ideas. The safety and wellbeing of his students always comes first.

Mongo has a similar rapport with staff in his leadership role. He is the person who colleagues seek out when they have a challenge, need advice, or need someone to listen. He really listens and gives authentic advice from multiple perspectives. He never cuts time short, and he takes as much time to help as his colleagues need. Even though he oversees a lot of school functions, he sees his leadership role as Production Manager to empower his students to be the leaders and support the artistic visions of the other directors, taking no credit for himself. He is selfless, and he never gives up. He has committed his life to the program, 12+ hours every day, 7 days a week, every single show.



Comments (3)


George Greene Posted 12 months ago

If "above and beyond" was a person, it would be this guy. Mongo is the spirit of DSA and one of the reasons for so many students' success. Those who have followed his lead have become better, more productive people. I truly hate to see him go, but he's definitely earned his retirement

Laura marcus Posted over a year ago

“Mongo” is a great drama teacher who treats the students with respect and allows them to be who they are. His drama class was always a favorite!

Kathryn Pratt Russell Posted over a year ago

I think that it's a rare teacher who can be praised by a parent who only knows him through volunteering to work with him in very stressful situations, like stage productions! I first met Mongo while I was volunteering to do cleanup around the theater, and I immediately saw that he was a man of deeds, not just words. He earns the respect of all who work with him by being knowledgeable, clear, and detailed. He knows exactly what has to be done to fix any problem that arises. I saw the depth of his commitment to the whole production when I became the parent to snap the picture of him in a janitorial coat, cleaning up a godawful mess some young man had left in the bathroom. I witnessed this episode because I was minding the front of the house at the Nutcracker performance, while everyone else was either having a good time, or doing more exalted tasks like managing dancers backstage. When I became the secretary of the PTSA this year, with a new principal at the helm, an entirely new PTSA, and really complicated legacies in staffing and funding, Mongo was the only person with the experience and the vision to be able to guide all of us newbies into doing useful work for the school's long-term health and happiness. Professionals like him change everything they touch for the better.