March is Women’s History Month and Nexstar and WGN are recognizing the great contributions women have made in our community. Throughout the month, four finalists for the 2022 Woman of the Year award will be highlighted.

CHICAGO — Every morning, Principal Danyale Woods greets every student, who she calls “leaders,” at Heritage Leadership Academy.

She’s also the co-founder of the small, faith-based school on the city’s South Side.

After teaching for 20 years, right here in the city of Chicago, I knew that more had to be done,” she said.

Woods and her husband took all their savings and jumped in to starting the Morgan Park school in 2018. As an educator, she wanted to get to get to the heart of learning.

We focus on building the confidence, a lot of the leaders have come from schools where they have been beat up on, misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and so we get to the heart of the matter — loving on them,” Woods said.

But when COVID-19 pandemic hit, their tuition-based school also took a hit.

It’s kind of hard when I think about what we have sacrificed, my husband and I sacrificed our home,” Woods said. “We put so much money into this believing that everything would balance itself, and then the pandemic hit a year and a half into our dream manifesting and the setback was unimaginable.”

Woods is a mother of four, but she and her husband stopped taking a salary after the school lost more than half of the student population.

“So right now my house is in foreclosure and that was a dream house for us,” she said. “But when I look back at moments like that, of course there’s some sadness because of what that meant, but my faith tells me that there are greater things ahead for us and keep going and that our labor of love is not in vain.”

For Paula Strahan-Gadson, Woods was more than just her daughter, Alyssa’s principal and educator.

It’s not just the reading, writing and arithmetic, she also has a heart. A lot of kids today, they don’t receive the love. You can give the education in books and teach them everything they want to know but it’s also an emotional attachment she has to the students,” she said.

That’s why she nominated Woods as Nexstar’s Remarkable Woman.

Alyssa tested into one of the city’s top selective enrollment high schools and she credits Woods.

“The fact that she invests her time, her money, her effort into other children when she didn’t have to,” Alyssa Gadson, a former student, said.

Many of the students have exceled.

And it’s because of the students that this Remarkable Woman persists.