2019 National Distinguished Principals

National Distinguished Principals Program

Congratulations to our 2019 Class of National Distinguished Principals! NAESP honors the following outstanding elementary and middle-level administrators for setting high standards for instruction, student achievement, character, and climate for the students, families, and staffs in their learning communities. Learn more about the NDP program here.

Our 2019 National Distinguished Principals Program will be held Oct. 10 – 11, 2019 in Washington, D.C.


Michael V. Wilson

Glen Iris Elementary School
Birmingham County Schools
South Birmingham, Alabama


Dr. Michael Wilson has served Birmingham County Schools (BCS) as a teacher and an administrator for the last 27 years. Since 2006, he has served as principal of Glen Iris Elementary School (GIES), an urban, high-poverty Pre-K through fifth grade school in South Birmingham, where he has taken a community-driven approach to improving instruction. According to Bernard Chandler, instructional superintendent for BCS, Wilson “works tirelessly to assure that his family of students and adults have available resources to meet their needs.” At GIES, this has meant building local partnerships to create the school’s first outdoor classroom and using urban agriculture as a vehicle for standards-based curriculum, a model that has since spread to five other Birmingham schools. Prior to these accomplishments, Wilson achieved turnaround success as principal of Whatley Elementary School, moving from “alert” to “clear” status in just one year. In addition to his service in the school and the classroom, Wilson has collaborated with organizations such as the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools to advocate for better legislation that includes funding for afterschool programming and 21st century learning centers. Wilson has received multiple honors for his leadership and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa; an Ed.S. from the University of Montevallo; an Ed.S. and an M.A. from the University of Alabama, Birmingham; and a B.F.A. from Southern Methodist University. 

Email: mwilson@bhm.k12.al.us


Douglas F. Gray

Anchorage PAIDEIA Cooperative School
Anchorage School District
Anchorage, Alaska


Douglas Gray Jr. recently became principal of Anchorage PAIDEIA Cooperative School, where he has overseen the school’s transition from a charter to an alternative statewide homeschool program that actively engages students in developing their own learning plans. In his short tenure, he has increased enrollment from 130 to 216 students, shored up curricular resources, and built a name for the program as one that “will work with schools rather than compete against them.” Before taking on this role a year ago, Gray served as principal of Lake Otis Elementary School for six years. There, he increased family engagement by implementing data-driven Academic Parent Teacher Teams and fostered a peaceful school culture through Conscious Discipline strategies and schoolwide implementation of the CHAMPs program. By supporting his staff to establish shared behavioral expectations, Gray achieved a nearly 50-percent decrease in disciplinary referrals in the first year of the program. Throughout his career, Gray has used his leadership to deepen connections with local communities. At Clarks Point Elementary, for example, he oversaw an ethnographic picture book project that engaged all students in telling their community stories; the book is now housed in the Smithsonian Museum’s Alaska Native collection. Gray holds a K-8 Principalship Certificate from the University of Alaska, Anchorage; an M.A. in Special Education from Framingham State College; and a B.A. in Elementary Education from Notre Dame College.

Email: gray_douglas@asdk12.org


Karen K. Coleman

Boulder Creek Elementary
Gilbert Unified School District
Mesa, Arizona


Building on over a decade of classroom teaching experience, Karen Coleman has served as principal of Boulder Creek Elementary School (BCE) for the last 19 years. Throughout her impressive career, Coleman has cultivated a dynamic and welcoming environment where students, staff, and families collaborate in the ongoing improvement of this suburban Title I school. Coleman is most proud of establishing strong and connecting school traditions, her favorite of which gathers BCE alumni for a high school graduation celebration. As a leader, Coleman positions herself as a strategic coach in order to build the collective leadership of her team. She was an early adopter of PLCs, supporting her teachers in dedicating time to data analysis before her district formally allocated PLC time in the master schedule. Through this model, she has developed the school’s capacity to establish strong benchmarks and guide strategic interventions to foster academic success. Coleman actively engages all stakeholder groups to articulate the vision and plan for school improvement and organizes to align resources with long-term goals. In 2017, Coleman led BCE in becoming an AVID school, centering college and career thinking by teaching organizational strategies, close reading and note-taking skills, and informational writing. Coleman is active in her professional and faith communities. She holds an Ed.D. and a B.A. from Arizona State University and an M.A. from the University of Texas at San Antonio. 

Email: karen.coleman@gilbertschools.net

Arkansas (Elementary)

Shelly R. Poage

John Tyson Elementary
Springdale Public Schools
Springdale, Arkansas


Shelly Poage has served the last three of her 10 years of principalship as leader of John Tyson Elementary in Springdale, Arkansas. Throughout her tenure, Tyson has received multiple recognitions for outstanding “against the odds” improvement, including being identified by the Arkansas Department of Education in 2017 and 2018 as among the top 5 percent of schools for student growth. This distinction is particularly impressive given the school’s high-poverty and linguistically diverse population, with 10 languages spoken by the school’s 560 students. Poage credits Tyson’s success to its “positive and inclusive school culture that appreciates and celebrates our uniqueness,” an ethos that reflects her passion for highly personalized, innovative strategies that center and enhance student agency. This approach is deeply informed by Poage’s experience visiting innovative New Zealand schools as part of a Global Learning Journey group and has yielded creative models for teaching the qualities and skills of lifelong learners. Student-led Passion Projects, for example, give students the opportunity to develop and implement community-based initiatives that draw on their studies beyond the established curriculum. She has shared strategies and reflections on this work through her personal blog, as well as through district-level and national professional development. Poage is a doctoral candidate at Harding University and holds an M.Ed. from the University of Arkansas and a B.S. in Education from the University of North Dakota. 

Email: spoage@sdale.org

Arkansas (Middle)

Gina Richard

Star City Middle School
Star City School District
Star City, Arkansas


As principal of Star City Middle School (SCMS) in rural Arkansas, Gina Richard sees herself as “lead learner,” a role which she embodies by building sustainable systems of distributed leadership and decision-making. In her four-year tenure at SCMS, Richard has led the redesign of the school’s PLC model and implemented multiple programs to provide holistic academic support for Star City’s 329 sixth- through eighth-grade students, over half of whom receive free or reduced-price meals. This work has led to state recognition for against-the-odds growth in literacy and math. Recognizing the importance of strong peer networks and individualized advocacy, Richard’s team has implemented a C.A.R.E. advisory period to promote positive character development and one-on-one support for all students. The model has been so successful in implementing the Energy Bus for Schools leadership principles that the school received the first in the nation “Best in Class” award for demonstrating excellence. In addition to serving as principal, Richard also leads secondary STEM curriculum for her district, which has gone on to earn state and national recognition. Under her leadership, SCMS will become the state’s first School of Innovation, rolling out embedded STEAM curricula over the next three years. Richard has undertaken advanced leadership study at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, where she also holds a Masters of Educational Leadership and a B.A. in Middle Level Education. 

Email: gina.richard@starcityschools.org


Robert C. Effa Jr.

Grant Elementary School
Grant School District 
Redding, California


Robert C. Effa Jr. believes “a productive school is one that has a clear vision.” This philosophy is evident in Effa’s seven years as principal of Grand Oaks Elementary School, where he has rallied stakeholders to articulate and carry out a vision for the school that centers learning and wellness for all students. After being introduced to trauma-informed research and practices through participation in an RTI training, Effa mobilized his team to transform the support that Grand Oaks provides to its 240 students, over 80 percent of whom receive free or reduced-price meals. This process led to an overhaul of the school’s master schedule to pro-vide tiered instruction and integrate daily interventions and enrichment. Effa created complementary Academic, Attendance, and Behavioral Support Teams to use student data to strategize individualized support for a student body facing increasing barriers to success. In addition to yielding significant academic gains, these efforts have led to a dramatic decrease in disciplinary referrals and have cut suspensions by an impressive 65 percent. Effa is active in community athletics leadership and is a cofounder of Shasta County Teachers Consortium, which has served as a vehicle to share Grand Oaks’ successes and increase local access to professional development for educators. Effa recently accepted a position as the new Principal/Superintendent of Grant Elementary School/District in Redding, CA. He holds an M.P.A. from National University, as well as Administrative Services credentials and a B.S. in Biology and Natural Resources from Humboldt State University.

Email: reffa@grantschoolcougars.com


Lorynda J. Sampson

Northridge Elementary School
St. Vrain Valley School District
Longmont, Colorado


Lorynda Sampson has served Northridge Elementary School as its principal for the last nine years. Building on over 20 years of staff development experience, Sampson has invested her passion for lifelong learning into transforming professional culture and moving Northridge out of Priority Improvement status to Performance—Colorado’s highest school accreditation level. With the aim of increasing engagement and empowerment for Northridge’s high-poverty and linguistically diverse student population, Sampson set out to shift mindset, culture, and instructional practices to create a supportive environment for all learners. The result is a school that families see as a community resource. Sampson’s leadership is humble, driven by a commitment to build the trust necessary for collaboration. After leading collective assessments of improvement strategies, she encouraged her staff to take the steps necessary for growth by modeling risk-taking herself. For example, she forwarded video analysis of teaching and learning by being the first to model, opening the door for teachers to embrace change, increase self-reflection, and foster peer feedback, leading to more frequent and creative adaptations to instruction. Under her leadership, Northridge earned Colorado Succeeds STEM Excellence Award in 2018. Sampson holds an M.A. from the University of Phoenix and a B.A. from the University of Northern Colorado.

Email: sampson_lorynda@svvsd.org


Alicia Sweet Dawe

West Vine Street School
Stonington Public Schools
Pawcatuck, Connecticut


For the last six years, Alicia Sweet Dawe has served as principal of West Vine Street (K-2) and West Broad Street (3-4) Elementary Schools in Pawcatuck, Connecticut, where she recently oversaw a successful merger and expansion project. Throughout, Dawe has strived to create the conditions for student learning by building a professional culture of lifelong adult learning. She envisions PLCs as “living and breathing entities” where she cultivates the leadership of teachers to deliver direct, positive results in student achievement through collective analysis, reflection, and action. The School Data Team has been particularly successful during her tenure, resourcing teachers with the tools needed to focus interventions to align data-driven, student-centered strategies with district-determined outcomes. Dawe believes that high expectations and differentiation are key to student success, which is why she facilitated the creation of a daily enrichment and intervention block across all grades. The WIN block has increased performance and lowered need for intervention. She plans to lead a similar initiative to integrate STEM into the daily schedule, building on successful after-school offerings she has developed. West Broad Street was awarded the School of Academic Distinction in 2014-15 by the Connecticut State Department of Education. Dawe holds a sixth-year degree in Administration and an Intermediate Administration and Supervision Certification from Sacred Heart University, an M.S. in Education from the University of New Haven, and a B.A. in Psychology from Nichols College. 

Email: adawe@stoningtonschools.org


Kirsten S. Jennette

Blades Elementary School
Seaford School District
Seaford, Delaware


According to Seaford School District’s assistant superintendent, Corey Miklus, principal Kirsten Jennette’s “work ethic, dedication to students, and her love for curriculum and instruction are a model for other school administrators.” These qualities have also been instrumental to Jennette’s turnaround leadership at Blades Elementary School (BES), a rural K-2 school where she has served as principal for the last five years. When Jennette arrived at BES, then a K-5 school, almost a quarter of all fourth and fifth grade students, many of them English language learners, were identified as having a disability. Working collaboratively with building leaders, Jennette reassessed and revised the school’s RTI process and transformed its special education model from pull-out to push-in, providing proactive supports to give every student a chance to succeed prior to making referrals. Jennette simultaneously developed the building’s PLC culture, drawing on her years of experience as a new teacher mentor to cultivate the in-house assessment and reflection skills necessary to strategically shift instruction. As a result of this and many other partnership-driven initiatives, BES has overcome Improvement status and continues to make academic progress. Jennette received the 2019 Superstars in Education Award from the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and has served on the Governor’s Subcommittee and the University of Virginia School Turnaround Leadership Team. She holds an Ed.D. from Wilmington University and M.Ed and B.S. degrees from Salisbury University.

Email: kirsten.jennette@seaford.k12.de.us


Tracy McLaughlin

Discovery Oaks Elementary
Clay County School District
Orange Park, Florida


Tracy McLaughlin is a firm believer in distributed leadership guided by clear expectations and a common vision for excellence. As a principal for the last eight years, she has lived this belief by building authentic relationships that allow stakeholders to come together to advance change. As principal of Ridgeview Elementary, she has rallied the community to shift culture toward inclusion and high expectations for all students, leading the school to earn an “A” rating and the highest performance gains in the district. She calls this victory—which was possible with 70 percent of students living at or below the poverty line and without Title I funds—“a story of people and the power of trust, commitment to learning, leadership, and caring.” Building on this turnaround success, McLaughlin built a coalition around a shared vision of educational equity to campaign and achieve Title I status for the school. This experience prepared her to take the lead in opening Discovery Oaks Elementary, a brand new STEAM school where McLaughlin is responsible for guiding the development and implementation of technology-driven curricula, while managing a 78-person staff team and a $3.5 million operating budget. Ridgeview Elementary received the 2018 School of Excellence Award, and McLaughlin was named 2017-2018 Principal of the Year for Clay County. She holds an M.Ed. in Leadership and a B.S. in Secondary Education from the University of Maine.

Email: tracy.mclaughlin@myoneclay.net

Georgia (Elementary)

Richard L. Bazemore

Thomas G. Scott Elementary
Monroe County Schools
Forsyth, Georgia


In his role as principal of Thomas G. Scott Elementary School, Richard Bazemore subscribes to Donald McGannon’s view that “leadership is an action, not a position.” Throughout his 28-year career as an administrator, Bazemore has taken action to realize his mission to make T.G. Scott an environment where all 800 students “feel safe to take risks and participate in and out of the classroom.” Bazemore’s leadership has had district-wide impact; as a founding leader of the Monroe County Balanced Literacy Initiative, he has generated tools and resources that have directly improved literacy instruction. He has also led a school division and consolidation project, opening a brand new school where his leadership turned a “Needs Improvement” rating into Title I Rewards School recognition within one year, an honor reserved for the top 5 percent of Title I schools in the state. These robust gains in reading and math proficiency have continued through Bazemore’s implementation of Data Teams, a framework that has allowed all building leaders to act on shared goals through rigorous analysis and targeted strategy. This format led to first-year gains in almost all grades and subject areas district-wide. Bazemore holds an Ed.D. in Leadership from NOVA Southeastern University, an M.Ed. in Health and Physical Education from Georgia Southwestern University, and a B.S. in Business Administration from Georgia College and State University. 

Email: richard.bazemore@mcschools.org

Georgia (Middle)

Connie S. Stovall

Dawson County Junior High School
Dawson County Schools
Dawsonville, Georgia


Connie Stovall measures her success as a leader by her ability to encourage and build the leadership capacities in others. In her 13 years as a middle school administrator, eight as a principal and five as an assistant principal, Stovall has mentored and coached 19 teachers to move into leadership roles at the school and district level. Stovall’s passion for network-building and professional development has allowed her to simultaneously shepherd academic and cultural change, processes which she has amplified to a wider audience as a published author. An early adopter of the social-emotional learning movement, Stovall led Liberty Middle School in the implementation of the iTeam (Inspiration Team) and the adoption of interdisciplinary, inquiry-driven instruction. These efforts increased student ownership and engagement and led to the school’s recognition as a Lighthouse School to Watch shortly following her departure. Now principal of Dawson County Junior High School, a large school serving grades 8-9, Stovall has made remarkable first-year progress, including a decrease in below-grade-level performance, by implementing a combination of RTI, remedial programming, and data teams. Stovall has served in a number of leadership roles in her district and in state and national organizations. She holds an Ed.S. and a B.S. in Middle Grades Education from Brenau University, an M.Ed. in Middle Grades Education and Leadership credentials from the University of Georgia, and an A.A. in Business Administration from Emmanuel College. 

Email: cstovall@dawson.k12.ga.us


Stacie SG Kunihisa

Kanoelani Elementary School
Leeward School District
Waipahu, Hawaii


Stacie S.G. Kunihisa has served seven of her 10 years as principal harnessing collaboration and local leadership to advance student learning at Kanoelani Elementary, a K-6 school serving 760 students in Waipahu, Hawaii. Through creative community partnerships, Kunihisa has recuperated funding for extracurriculars, bringing in over $250,000 in funding and human resources to expand from just four to 23 distinct offerings. Driven by her commitment to building a culture of lifelong professional learning, Kunihisa measures her success by a marked increase in teacher satisfaction—from 50 percent to 98.4 percent under her leadership. According to sixth grade teacher Lauren An, Kunihisa inspires professional growth by leading by example. She has implemented the Teachers Leading and Learning program to encourage the faculty to share their skills with one another, while growing a culture of feedback through Peer to Peer observations. These efforts have supported the school’s social-emotional learning program, Choose Love, and has also led teachers to independently train in project-based learning and other whole child strategies that center student voice in the learning process. Kunihisa was also awarded the coveted 2019 Masayuki Tokioka Principal of the Year Award, receiving $25,000 for excellence in leadership to fund a special “Lokahi Lounge” that will service multilingual families in the school and community. In addition to her principalship, Kunihisa serves in a variety of leadership roles within her district, in which she has advanced K-12 critical thinking initiatives and advocated for equitable special education funding, among other accomplishments. She holds an M.A. in Educational Administration from Central Michigan University and a B.A. in English Education from the University of Oklahoma. 

Email: Stacie_kunihisa@notes.k12.hi.us


Tim Lowe

William Howard Taft Elementary
Boise Independent School District
Boise, Idaho


Tim Lowe has served Boise Independent School District as an administrator since 2001, most recently leading William Howard Taft Elementary School, a linguistically diverse K-6 school with a significant refugee population. When Lowe arrived at Taft in 2016, many teachers and staff had resigned themselves to the school’s reputation for instability and poor student behavior. Lowe quickly saw an opportunity for positive transformation and led his leadership team in implementing a PBIS program to create consistent behavioral expectations with clear pathways to success. Supported by trauma-informed professional development and a self-regulation “toolbox,” the program led to a swift reduction in disciplinary referrals, dropping from 305 to 129 annually in just two years. The impact of this shift has been far reaching in a school where 98 percent of students are low-income and 30 percent do not speak English as a first language. Recognizing the real limitations of economically struggling families to participate in school life, Lowe has created numerous community and university partnerships to ensure that students benefit from positive role models while also bringing visibility to the community’s diverse population. These efforts are characteristic of Lowe’s compassionate nature, which colleagues applaud as a signature of his leadership. Lowe was a member of the Idaho Air National Guard. He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Boise State University and a Specialist Degree from the University of Idaho, Boise.

Email: tim.lowe@boiseschools.org


Michael J. Merritt

Gardner Grade School
Gardner Grade School District 72C
Gardner, Illinois


Dr. Michael J. Merritt’s supervisor describes him as having a “deep understanding of modern leadership and the moral imperative to lead a school community through the challenging shifts occurring in education across the state and country.” As prin-cipal of Brentwood Elementary for the last five years, Merritt has leveraged his skills at relationship-building and instructional leadership to build a professional learning culture that works rigorously to hone teaching strategies that support learning for all students. In recent years, this work has been focused on restructuring the school’s multi-tiered system of support. Together with colleagues on the Synergy Team, Merritt meets with grade level teams, supporting them to collectively analyze data and deter-mine appropriate instructional practices for students performing at each tier. The model has already contributed to positive professional growth and overall growth, particularly in literacy. Merritt has accompanied this work with an increased focus on supporting social-emotional learning through daily opening and closing circles and a weekly learning block. Merritt is committed to creating a positive and welcoming school climate and gets to work making that vision a reality before students arrive on their first day of kindergarten; each year, he ventures into the community to welcome every new student and family to Brentwood. Merritt recently accepted a position as the new Principal/Superintendent at Gardner Grade School District 72C. He holds a Doctorate from the University of St. Francis, a Master’s from Concordia University, and a Bachelor’s from Illinois State University. 

Email: mmerritt@ggs72.org


Mark B. Heiden

Creekside Elementary School
Franklin Community Schools
Franklin, Indiana


When Mark B. Heiden became principal of Creekside Elementary School a decade ago, he encountered a school with falling test scores, rising poverty, and no coherent vision. Recognizing the deep commitment of teachers and support staff, Heiden identified the need to develop a positive school culture that could be championed by every member of the school community to turn these trends around. To get there, Heiden facilitated internal assessments that allowed his team to set an agenda for incremental change, starting with the implementation of a new school motto, “We are family.” Next, Heiden took on initiatives to build a more collegial environment, from the creation of a faculty lounge to the implementation of PLCs. His collaborative approach to leadership allowed him to transform parent-school relationships and rejuvenate the school’s PTO, which was $10,000 in debt when he arrived and currently has an annual budget of $25,000. All of these efforts have led to turnaround academic success at Creekside, which has earned four “A” ratings in the last six years, up from a “D” rating when Heiden took leadership. In addition to his role as principal, Heiden serves as the High Ability Coordinator for his district and has been instrumental in overhauling gifted education at Creekside. He holds Ed.D., Ed.S., M.A.E., and M.A. degrees from Ball State University and a B.A. from Manchester College.

Email: heidenm@franklinschools.org


Candace A. Lynch

Johnson STEAM Academy
Cedar Rapids Community School District
Cedar Rapids, Iowa


As principal of Johnson STEAM Academy, Candace Lynch has helmed a full cultural and curricular transformation by harnessing the creativity, leadership, and agency of her teachers. Facing rising poverty and homelessness and the challenges of a highly mobile student population, the former arts elementary school was declared failing by the state several years prior to Lynch’s arrival in 2013. Six years later, Johnson is now home to the district’s first magnet program with a highly sought-after curriculum that integrates content across subject areas with a focus on social-emotional learning, 21st-century career skills, and STEAM. This interdisciplinary curriculum is driven by deep professional collaboration and delivered through a flexible, mixed-age pod structure that regroups students throughout the day to target instruction to skill level. This structure was self-determined in a process that Lynch facilitated to engage all staff in dreaming of the school they wanted to teach in and has led to marked increases in student motivation and achievement. Lynch’s leadership from visioning to implementation has greatly increased stakeholder satisfaction, shifted community perception of the school, and led to several recognitions, including a Merit School of Distinction award from Magnet Schools of America. Lynch holds an Advanced Studies Certificate in PK-12 Principalship from the University of Northern Iowa, an M.A. in K-12 School Counseling from the University of IA, and a B.A. in Elementary Education from St. Mary’s College.



Eric J. Sacco

Clifton-Clyde Grade and Middle School
Clifton-Clyde USD 224
Clifton, Kansas


Following a decade of service as a 4th grade teacher, Eric Sacco has served as principal of Clifton-Clyde Grade and Middle Schools since 2011. Driven to cultivate a positive professional and learning atmosphere, Sacco focuses his energy on building strong relationships, modeling collaboration and lifelong learning, and supporting teachers and staff in establishing shared goals and identifying the steps necessary to realize them. Taking on this facilitator role has allowed Sacco to develop his team’s ability to regularly assess the needs of the school’s small, dynamic, rural population while working to fulfill the goal of “meeting students where they are at academically.” This work has led to the implementation of PLCs, expanded counseling services, and the introduction of new literacy, afterschool, and positive behavior programming. Sacco has worked to ensure that the staff involved in implementing these programs have also played a role in envisioning and developing them, and he has worked tirelessly to establish strong community relationships to ensure support for each program’s success. Sacco is an accomplished professional development leader; he has led several multi-district professional development workshops, facilitated conversations via Twitter, and supported the growth of new principals as a mentor. Last school year, Eric served as president of the Kansas Association of Elementary School Principals. He holds a Bachelor's Degree from Bethany College and a Master’s degree from Baker University

Email: esacco@usd224.com


Derrick P. Harris

Bell Elementary School
Wayne County School District
Monticello, Kentucky


Derrick P. Harris has served as a principal since 2006 and has led Bell Elementary in that capacity since 2013. Harris has focused on implementing best practices that increase student performance and learning, such as a differentiated literacy program that ensures each child’s true instructional needs are being met. This highly successful program has resulted in 85 percent of students now reading at grade level, compared to barely 50 percent reading at grade level when he first became principal. Harris has also focused on creating a welcoming and community-centered environment for students and staff. He was instrumental in implementing Bell Elementary’s unique Officer Friend initiative as part of Bell’s School Safety Program. Through this initiative, a local law enforcement officer “adopts” a classroom and spends time visiting with students, helping with homework, or just eating lunch together. Students feel safe, motivated and connected to their community through this program. Harris believes that a true leader does not create followers but instead  inspires more leaders, and he has created a culture at Bell where staff are encouraged to live up to this vision as they continuously develop their skills. Harris is described as a compassionate, student-centered leader who always has time to listen to students, staff, and parents alike. He holds a Bachelor’s from Eastern Kentucky University and has received Instructional Leadership certificates from Union College.

Email: derrick.harris@wayne.kyschools.us


Clay Gleason

Hollis Elementary School
Bonny Eagle School District
Hollis, Maine


Clay Gleason has been an educator for over 20 years and has served as principal of Hollis Elementary since 2012. Gleason’s district supervisor describes him as a collaborative and collegial peacemaker who has created a climate of wellness at Hollis Elementary. During his years serving as an assistant middle school principal, Gleason noticed that many students felt disengaged from school and couldn’t wait to be able to become more involved in hands-on, vocational opportunities. When he began as principal at Hollis Elementary, Gleason made it a priority to establish an experiential learning initiative for upper elementary age students to address this issue at the root. The innovative experiential program includes hands-on STEM components, such as coding and robot-building, and high school student mentors regularly help students with exciting, enriching projects. Staff and parents have noticed an increase in confidence, engagement, and excitement for learning for students who participate in this program, and plans have been made to expand the program to accommodate more students who are interested. Gleason has also focused on strengthening literacy for all Hollis Elementary students and is a proponent of mixed-age peer learning groups, committed to making sure each student gets the personalized instruction they need for maximum growth. Gleason holds a Masters from the University of Southern Maine and a Bachelor’s from the University of Maine at Farmington.

Email: cgleason@bonnyeagle.org


Edward C. Cosentino

Clemens Crossing Elementary School
Howard County Public School System
Columbia, Maryland


In his seven years as principal, Edward Cosentino has always strived for excellence. He has been instrumental in integrating MAP and continuous data analysis into his school’s best practices, while engaging in intensive instructor mentoring and remaining a strong believer that standardized tests can never replace the evaluations of thoughtful and engaged teachers. This praxis has resulted in Clemens Crossing Elementary surpassing countywide performance averages, which Cosentino attributes to the infusion of data-rich conversations within teams and the inclusion of goal-setting with students. Cosentino has worked hard with his school’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) to become a National PTA School of Excellence. The PTA-staff partnership has resulted in a stronger focus on the social and emotional wellbeing of each student, developing initiatives such as Whole Child, Whole Health, in which PTA volunteers and school staff created newsletters on health, development, and safety that were distributed to families. Other community-building activities have included family movie and discussion nights and Boys’ and Girls’ Night Out, parent-children nights where families were able to connect and learn tools to manage the challenges of raising children in today’s world. His colleagues describe Cosentino as an “optimistic, positive leader” who “strives to make his school environment positive, productive, and safe for all that enter and exit the building.” Cosentino holds a Masters from Loyola College of Maryland and a Bachelor’s from Towson University.

Email: ecosentino@hcpss.org


Linda A. Balfour

H. Olive Day School
Norfolk Public Schools
Norfolk, Massachusetts


Linda Balfour began her career over 40 years ago as a second-grade teacher before becoming a special education/learning disabilities teacher. Her longstanding commitment to inclusion and accommodation is reflected in her 26 years of leadership as principal of the H. Olive Day School. Balfour strongly believes that children need to feel loved, supported, safe, and competent in order to thrive as students and human beings. When she first became principal, the school was one of the first in the area to adopt a social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum when they implemented the Open Circle Social Competency Program to make sure these needs were met. This program, which teaches students problem-solving, emotional regulation, and peer negotiation strategies while nurturing empathy and understanding, has helped make H. Olive Day School a pioneer in the area of SEL and establish a learning culture that is referred to as “the HOD school family.” As a special education resource teacher, Balfour helped create a series of lessons for third-graders called “Understanding Disabilities” so students without disabilities could learn about the challenges and experiences of their peers with disabilities. As principal, she has encouraged the development of “ClubGLO—Great Learning Opportunities,” a series of activity clubs focused on letting students explore their interests while fostering an environment where students with learning and social or emotional challenges can feel comfortable and competent and shine with peers. Balfour has fostered an environment of continual learning for teachers, with a customized peer classroom observation program and training in advanced student achievement data assessment, analysis, and curriculum integration. Balfour holds an M.Ed. in Special Education and Learning Disabilities from Bridgewater State University and a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and Special Education from Boston College.

Email: balfour@norfolk.k12.ma.us


Glenn J. Gualtieri

Bailey Lake Elementary
Clarkston Community Schools
Clarkston, Michigan


In his 14 years as principal of Bailey Lake Elementary, Glenn Gualtieri has prioritized creating a school community where every student and staff member’s voice is heard and where each person’s strengths are recognized. He enacts this commitment by greeting each of his 500 students by name and visiting all 23 classrooms on a daily basis. Connections are fostered in myriad ways, from the Peer Pals program where students with special needs are paired with students who can provide assistance and companionship to the mentoring program where students are matched with staff for the duration of their elementary school career. Emotional intelligence and fostering community are as much a part of Bailey Lake Elementary’s culture as is the school’s differentiated curriculum model and consistently high academic performance. Special events like Grandparents’ Day, service learning projects with local animal shelters, and the Blessings in a Backpack school supply donation program highlight the community focus of Gualtieri’s leadership. Colleagues and Parent-Teacher Association members laud Gualtieri’s reputation as an inspiring and thoughtful leader whose humor, humility, and larger-than-life personality have helped him gain the trust and respect of his staff and students as he continues to steer Bailey Lake Elementary on the path of excellence. Gualtieri received his Masters of Arts in K-12 Education from Michigan State University and his Bachelors of Science in Elementary Education from Western Michigan University.

Email: gjgualtieri@clarkston.k12.mi.us


Eric M. Skanson

Cold Spring Elementary
Rockville-Cold Spring-Richmond School District
Cold Spring, Minnesota


Dr. Eric Skanson describes his calling as a principal as a responsibility to model, repair, and cultivate trust from all members of his school. In his 12 years as principal, 11 of which have been served at Cold Spring Elementary, Skanson has modeled this vision and has fostered an accountable, thriving school environment. In 2015, Cold Spring Elementary became a Minnesota School of Excellence, thanks to Skanson’s leadership and the dedication of his staff. A robust achievement data framework to ensure that each student excels, though monthly staff analysis meetings and six-week check-ins to help students and educators remain on track with student learning goals. Under Skanson’s leadership, the school has begun introducing more experiential learning to the classroom, including exploratory classes for third- through fifth-graders, which allow children to discover new interests and passions, from yoga to engineering. Skanson is attuned to the specific needs of students in this rural community and has worked to strengthen the Host Parent Association to combat family isolation and conflict. The group has successfully partnered with local organizations and businesses to organize community playdates, service projects, and free community meals, all focused on connecting families and children. Skanson holds an Ed. D. from University of Minnesota, a Master’s in Education from Hamline University, and a Bachelor’s of Science in Education from Valley City State University.

Email: Skansone@rocori.k12.mn.us


Lee C. Pambianchi

Northshore Elementary School
Rankin County School District
Brandon, Mississippi


Dr. Lee Pambianchi is described by colleagues and parents as a driven and caring leader with a growth mindset and a dedication to creating excellence and community at Northshore Elementary. A defining feature of her principalship has been innovation, and under her leadership, the school rocketed from a ranking of 27th in the state to third. Pambianchi helped implement a STEM lab to help steer the school into a 21st-century learning environment. She counts among her most significant accomplishments in her 6-year tenure as principal the successful implementation of PBIS and MTSS into her school. PBIS has ensured that teachers develop their skill sets for understanding and addressing students’ behavioral needs, while MTSS has helped staff and administrators effectively leverage data to enhance student learning and ensure that educational goals are being met for all students. A positive, growth-oriented culture among staff thrives under Pambianchi’s leadership; teachers are encouraged to self-reflect on lesson plans and participate in PLCs, and faculty meetings are used as a place to celebrate achievements and remain focused on professional growth and creative thinking. Pambianchi holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education from Mississippi State University, along with two Ed.S. in Supervision and Administration and Elementary Education, an M.Ed. in Elementary Education, and a B.S. in Elementary Education from Delta State University.

Email: lee.pambianchi@rcsd.ms


Lance C. McClard

North Elementary and Millerville Attendance Center
Jackson R-2 School District
Jackson, Missouri


In his seven-year tenure as principal, Dr. Lance C. McClard has worked tirelessly to instill a growth mindset and ignite innovation among his staff and students, and this dedication shows. McClard has introduced initiatives that give voice to students in a real way. Students are able to make choices in the classroom that allow them to discover how they learn best. Being able to meaningfully affect their learning experience—from being given the option to stand up while listening in class to participation in a more inclusive student leadership council—means that North Elementary students feel empowered and excited to attend school each day. A special “Teach Like a P.I.R.A.T.E.” Day offers students the option to explore new subject matter in short modules throughout the day. McClard has fostered the creation of a robust professional development program as well, creating space for teachers to participate in personalized professional development days. Smart use of technology has allowed for both local and global connections, with classrooms getting to participate in special presentations by parents, community members, and inspiring people from around the world—including an engineer in China—and participating in reading challenges with classes of students abroad. McClard holds an Educational Doctorate from the University of Missouri, and a Specialist Certificate, a Master’s, and a Bachelor of Science from Southeast Missouri State University.

Email: lcmcclard@jackson.k12.mo.us


Marlin K. Lewis

Hamilton Middle School
Hamilton School District #3
Hamilton, Montana


Marlin K. Lewis has served as principal of Hamilton Middle School since 2013. During this time, Lewis has enthusiastically and successfully helmed a major transformation at his school. At a time when the school was losing a number of students, which had a major impact on the school’s budget, Lewis recommended a district-wide reconfiguration that added around 130 new students to the study body. Undaunted by the addition of so many new students, Lewis used this as a chance to innovate, collaborating with staff to introduce exciting new STEM opportunities, civic education, and additional arts programming. Lewis’ thoughtful, data-driven focus on academic achievement has resulted in student assessment scores in reading and writing increasing by 10 percent over the last year. Under Lewis’ leadership, the school has also attained Platinum Status in the Montana Behavioral Initiative for the past three years, proof of the school’s focus on not just academic excellence but also social and behavioral growth. Lewis has a keen sense of the strengths and challenges inherent in leading a small-town school and has built links to the community through student service projects, clubs, and mentorship programs with local leaders. Colleagues describe Lewis as a welcoming and forward-thinking principal who will always go the extra mile to help students achieve. Lewis holds an Administrative Certification, a Master’s in Mathematics, and Bachelor’s in Mathematics from Montana State University.

Email: lewism@hsd3.org


Kris T. Friesen

York Elementary School
York Public Schools
York, Nebraska


Kris T. Friesen prides herself on being a collaborative leader in her role as principal of York Elementary. In her 13 years as principal, Friesen has built powerful relationships with staff and community to ensure the consistent implementation of best practices at her school. These include a schoolwide 3-tier system of interventions for reading, math, and writing. Partnering with local math coaches, the school has introduced a program called Math Expressions, which has resulted in increased proficiency in mathematics. The program also involves families by featuring family game nights, where students practice their reasoning and problem-solving skills in a warm and fun atmosphere. Friesen has also implemented programs that support the emotional growth and wellbeing of her students, including a Behavior Intervention Specialist program and a student-led district initiative called HOPE Squad, which focuses on suicide prevention and inclusion. Friesen has also supported the school in becoming a true 21st-century learning environment, offering a variety of afterschool programs that allow students to explore robotics, coding, GPS navigation, and many more areas of interest. Under Friesen’s leadership, parent involvement and satisfaction has grown, and students love helping their community by partnering with Pride Pack to send 72 backpacks of supplies and food home with students in need each week. Friesen holds a Master’s in Educational Administration and a B.A. in Teaching from the University of Nebraska.

Email: kris.friesen@yorkdukes.org


Amy Negrete

Marion Cahlan Elementary School
Clark County School District
North Las Vegas, Nevada


Cahlan Elementary’s assistant principal describes principal Amy Negrete as a true leader who inspires her team by walking with them, not in front of them. Negrete has dedicated her career to serving children at Title I schools, and under her leadership, Marlon Cahlan Elementary has made notable gains, particularly in mathematics, with the school now exceeding countywide levels of mathematics proficiency by 10 percent. Since 2016, Marlon Cahlan Elementary has received a Shining Star School designation each year, a statewide award that is reserved for high-performing schools with a high percentage of students experiencing poverty. With the knowledge that every minute of every day counts in ensuring student success, Negrete has implemented differentiated learning to challenge students who are excelling and to support struggling learners, with additional afterschool and Saturday tutoring available. Constant data analysis of student performance and growth-oriented goal-setting have allowed the school to maintain its upward trajectory and reach targets for student success. Negrete’s open-door leadership is marked by collaboration and a focus on developing a positive atmosphere for students, parents, and staff. Negrete encourages her staff to become teacher leaders and makes sure to celebrate their successes. The result has been a low turnover rate in hiring and a concomitant strengthening of the school community. Negrete holds an M.A. from Nova Southeastern University and a B.A. from University of Northern Iowa.

Email: negreaj@nv.ccsd.net

New Hampshire

Molly McCarthy

Riddle Brook School
Bedford School District
Bedford, New Hampshire


According to Riddle Brook School’s Technology Integration Teacher, Debra Rodd, principal Molly McCarthy practices leadership by “promoting the positive connection between developing teacher skills and increasing student achievement through professional development activities, which are aligned with academic standards.” In her 12-year tenure, McCarthy has developed a rich culture of professional learning through data-driven PLC facilitation, supportive observation, workshops, and a yearlong mentoring program that pairs veteran teachers with new staff. She believes that just as best teaching practices recognize diverse learning styles, professional development should meet the diverse learning needs of professional staff. As a result, her instructional leadership has encouraged creativity and collaboration by empowering staff to be the drivers of instructional change, allowing Riddle Brook to improve interventions and implement teaching methodologies that encourage students to practice critical thinking, problem-solving, and digital citizenship skills. McCarthy has also expanded programming for kindergarten students by introducing a fee-based half-day supplemental program opposite students’ regular half-day kindergarten session, strengthening the foundation for later academic and social success through positive reinforcement. All of these efforts have led to sustained academic growth; in 2017, Riddle Brook received the National Blue Ribbon Award for Exemplary High Performing School in recognition of student achievement and best practices in instruction, assessment, and intervention. McCarthy is currently a cohort member of the Granite State Leadership Academy. She holds B.A. and M.Ed. degrees from Keene State College.

Email: mccarthym@sau25.net

New Jersey

Pamela M. Hernandez

John F. Kennedy Elementary School
Jamesburg Public Schools
Jamesburg, New Jersey


Pamela Hernandez has served as principal of John F. Kennedy Elementary for the past five years, building on two decades of experience as a kindergarten teacher and district-level administrator in the areas of special education and student services. In her short tenure, Hernandez has strengthened culture and greatly expanded the resources available to the 500 students who attend this neighborhood Title I school. Recognizing a need for greater instructional and cultural cohesion, one of Hernandez’s first initiatives as principal was to introduce the Responsive Classroom model to establish shared language and strategies to encourage students’ independence and support their social-emotional learning. As a result, the school has seen increased satisfaction and a significant reduction in absenteeism. Hernandez collaborated with district leaders to win a preschool expansion grant, allowing her to open six new preschool classes, the impacts of which she says are “immeasurable and far-reaching.” She used the opportunity to launch a new bilingual immersion program, which has since expanded to serve students in grades K-3 and earned a special visit from New Jersey’s governor. Hernandez has partnered with the United Way of New Jersey to visibilize gender diversity in STEM through a Women in STEM for Preschoolers program. Hernandez holds a B.A. in Elementary Education and an M.A. in Learning Disabilities from Rowan University and has completed post-graduate study in Educational Leadership at The College of New Jersey. 

Email: pamela.hernandez@sbschools.org

New Mexico

Melissa S. Galaz

Sonoma Elementary School
Las Cruces Public Schools
Las Cruces, New Mexico


For the last decade, Melissa Galaz has served as principal of Sonoma Elementary School (SES), where she has implemented modern, data-driven practices for meeting the social, emotional, and intellectual needs of the school’s 800 students. Following a “D” rating in 2015, Galaz embarked on a rigorous turnaround effort that transformed instruction through root-cause analysis, intensive staff development, and collaborative strategy. Within just one year of implementation, the school’s rating increased to a high “B,” an impressive accomplishment made possible by a strong culture of professional learning and shared leadership. More recently, Galaz has focused on implementing restorative practices at SES, a progressive behavior management model that emphasizes community-based approaches to justice while avoiding the harmful effects of punishment. Galaz has supported her staff in the culture shift required of this transition, which includes creating “respect agreements” instead of classroom rules. In turn, the program has decreased disciplinary referrals while offering students tools to discuss their feelings and seek conflict resolution with their peers. Galaz is highly regarded by her colleagues for her devotion to the field, which is evident in her skilled mentorship and coaching of teachers and fellow administrators. Prior to her principalship at SES, Galaz served her district for a decade as a bilingual first- and second-grade teacher. She holds an M.A. in K-12 Administration and a B.A. in K-8 Elementary Education from New Mexico State University.

Email: mgalaz@lcps.net

New York (Elementary)

Doreen J. McSain

Glenwood Elementary School
Vestal Central School District
Vestal, New York


Before she became principal of Glenwood Elementary, Doreen McSain taught at the elementary and middle school level for 16 years. In that role, she says she was “always on a quest to reach the unreachable students.” As an administrator, this remains her work but with the added challenge of reaching teachers to build their leadership potential—a mission which she grounds in her sense of responsibility for the future of public education. This dual focus reflects McSain’s belief that teaching and learning are fundamentally intertwined and that teaching comes with a responsibility to continuously learn and grow. McSain has implemented this principle at a curricular level through cross-grade-level programs that develop students as teachers, mentors, and leaders. Standards-aligned intervention, for example, has been delivered through a student-centered program called L.E.A.P., which has led to improved achievement in literacy. McSain credits a peer mentorship program called Friend Families an overall decrease in disciplinary referrals. Always a collaborator, McSain has worked with stakeholders to develop resources that have expanded Glenwood’s social and academic learning opportunities, including a dedicated play space and Maker Space that emphasizes STEAM learning. McSain has taught as an Adjunct Faculty at Binghamton University’s School of Education, where she also received a M.S. in Literacy Education. She holds a Certificate of Advanced Study in School Leadership and a B.S. in Elementary Education from SUNY Cortland.

Email: djmcsain@vestal.k12.ny.us

New York (Middle)

David P. Dunn

Martha Brown Middle School
Fairport Central Schools
Fairport, New York


As a lifelong resident of Fairport, New York, David Dunn has a unique, long-term perspective on his role as principal of Martha Brown Middle School (MBMS). Prior to becoming MBMS’s lead administrator 24 years ago, Dunn was a student at the school, raised three children who also attended, and taught math for 18 years—10 while serving as department lead. Dunn’s longevity has allowed him to actively “develop a culture of family” where adult learners and students are “engaged in some of the best practices of effective middle schools.” Even two and a half decades into his principalship, Dunn remains a teacher and lifelong learner at heart; he currently co-teaches one section of eighth grade math and co-facilitates a summer workshop each year with his eighth grade asset leaders on character development, roles which he says have deepened trust with teachers and students, while helping him stay abreast of the challenges and joys of the classroom. Under his leadership, MBMS has developed a professional culture that emphasizes collaborative study, skill development, and problem-solving, supporting data-based instructional development as well as schoolwide conversations about how poverty affects educational outcomes. In all of his years of experience, Dunn says that one of his proudest professional moments was MBMS’s designation as a NYS Schools to Watch middle school in 2012, 2015, and 2018. He holds an M.S. in Educational Administration from SUNY Brockport and a B.S. in Secondary Education, with a 7-12 Math Endorsement. 

Email: ddunn@fairport.org

North Carolina

Melissa P. Fields

Perquimans Central School
Perquimans County School District
Winfall, North Carolina


Melissa P. Fields has served as principal of Perquimans Central School (PCS), a rural Pre-K-2 grade school serving 400 students in Winfall, North Carolina, for six years, and of Perquimans County High School (PCHS), serving 500 students in grades 9-12, for two years. During her tenure at PCHS, the school achieved an all-time high school performance grade of “B,” a result of Fields’s rigorous approach to data analysis, instructional feedback, and professional learning. Academic growth at PCS has also been driven by Fields’s commitment to equity and inclusion. For example, she recently assembled and led a Closing the Achievement Gap initiative that used collaborative research to determine the root causes of educational disparity for students of different economic and racial backgrounds. She then led the committee in developing a comprehensive plan that included community engagement and program development, as well as internal mentorship, team-building, and professional development, ultimately leading to a reduction in the literacy gap between white and black students and improved proficiency overall. These gains have been supported by a new summer program that Fields has implemented using Nook readers to incentivize reading and reduce “summer slide,” while also strengthening school-family relationships and ensuring students have summer access to food and resources. Fields earned a School Administration add-on credential from Elizabeth City State University, a Certificate of Advanced Study and a Master’s in Library Science from East Carolina University, and a B.S. in Psychology and Elementary Education from Mary Washington College.

Email: mfields@pqschools.org

North Dakota

Dave Steckler

Red Trail Elementary School
Mandan Public Schools
Mandan, North Dakota


Prior to being selected to open Red Trail Elementary School (RTES) five years ago, Dave Steckler had been principal of three other elementary schools, two of which he led while simultaneously serving as a classroom teacher. In these roles, Steckler gained significant experience securing and leveraging Title I funds to improve instruction through supportive programming and research-based best practices. As a result, he has led each of his schools in meeting the complex needs of at-risk students, helping them achieve their academic potential but also develop a sincere love for learning. As testament to Steckler’s commitment to improving achievement in high poverty schools, Hagan Elementary School was selected as a National Distinguished Title I School and a National Blue Ribbon School. Steckler has since channeled his experience with program implementation to establish a strong professional and learning culture at RTES. There, he has led the integration of STEM and project-based learning, among other initiatives, and will soon oversee a building expansion. Throughout his career, Steckler has served on a variety of state, local, and national committees and boards, work which he credits with his growth as a leader and values as a contribution to the broader betterment of public education. He holds an M.S. in Educational Administration from Moorhead State University and a B.S. in Elementary Education from Dickinson State University. 

Email: dave.steckler@msd1.org


Patti M. Schlaegel

Granby Elementary School
Worthington City Schools
Columbus, Ohio


In her seven years as principal of Granby Elementary School, Patti Schlaegel has strived to practice leadership as a “facilitator of change.” Building on 24 years as an elementary school teacher and instructional coach, Schlaegel has embodied this vision by building leadership in others, building the capacity of staff to implement systems that holistically support student achievement. To this end, in the course of her tenure, she has implemented a continuous improvement process, MTSS, PBIS, and teacher-based teams, among other initiatives. Recognizing social-emotional well-being as fundamental to academic performance, Schlaegel has worked creatively to develop resources that allow every student to show up fully and reach their maximum potential. For example, she recently worked with district leadership to develop a “Breakfast in the Classroom” program to ensure that all Granby students have access to a nutritious breakfast. She also developed a PBIS-supportive Family Groups program that strengthens community relationships through mixed-age small groups, one of many initiatives that parents appreciate for its focus on positive character-building. Schlaegel successfully led Granby in applying for an OAESA Hall of Fame School Award, a process which she says strengthened teamwork by prompting reflection on the school’s history and envisioning a bright future. She holds an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from the University of Dayton and a B.S. in Elementary Education from The Ohio State University, Columbus.

Email: pschlaegel@wscloud.org


Cathey A. Bugg

Heritage Elementary School
Edmond Public Schools
Edmond, Oklahoma


In her two-decades-strong career in leadership, Cathey A. Bugg has come to see vision as “one of the most powerful tools” available to educators to help child and adult learners “picture where they can go, what they can become.” Bugg has exemplified this wisdom in her successful leadership as principal of Heritage Elementary School, which became just the second school in the country to attain Great Expectations Model School status in its first year of operation in 2015. As the school’s first principal, Bugg was involved in every aspect of creating and opening the school, from participating in its design to recruiting and retaining its teaching staff. Each of her leadership roles was guided by a community-oriented approach to cultivating vision. Bugg sought direct contributions from stakeholders to develop the school’s formal mission, vision, and values and met with teachers regularly prior to the school’s opening to determine what they wanted the school to become. The result is a school culture built on high expectations for learning and respect, where a theme-based instruction approach blends authentic learning principles with data-driven and technology-based practices. Throughout her career, Bugg has scaled her impact by developing multiple junior administrators into full-time principals and many teachers into assistant principals and counselors. She holds Elementary Education and Principal Certifications, an M.Ed. in Elementary Administration, and a B.A. with distinction, all from the University of Oklahoma. 

Email: cathey.bugg@edmondschools.net


Kourtney K. Ferrua

Wascher Elementary School
McMinnville School District
Lafayette, Oregon


With principal Kourtney K. Ferrua’s leadership, Wascher Elementary School has experienced phenomenal growth over the last five years. Propelled by “the relentless belief that every child has an unlimited capacity to learn,” Ferrua has helped lead her rural school from underperformance to consistent results above state average growth, ranking in the top 10 percent in reading and math and the top performing Title I school in the state. Ferrua cites implementation of the Rigorous Curriculum Design program as one of the school’s key successful strategic changes. This program creates a collaborative instruction framework and ensures that teachers are able to carefully monitor student progress and intervene to promote student learning. Smart use of data and constant opportunities for professional development have also helped propel Wascher Elementary to the highest levels of growth in the state of Oregon. With a majority of students experiencing poverty, Ferrua has sought to create a culture where students feel empowered to believe in themselves, helping them overcome the obstacles of adverse experiences. Firmly believing that parent partnerships enrich student’s educational experience, Ferrua has worked diligently to address barriers such as language and parent involvement in the school. Colleagues and supervisors describe Ferrua as a beloved and tireless leader who constantly works to advocate for her students. Ferrua holds a Professional Administrative License from Concordia University of Chicago, an Initial Administrative License from Portland State University, a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Portland, and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of San Francisco.

Email: kferrua@msd.k12.or.us


Kristopher M. Vancas

Benner Elementary School
Bellefonte Area School District
Bellefonte, Pennsylvania


In seven years as principal, Kristopher Vancas has focused on maintaining a positive, visible leadership presence while promoting academic excellence and strengthening community ties at Benner Elementary School. This focus has affected the school in significant ways. With Vancas at the helm, Benner Elementary received a Governor’s Award for Excellence in Academics in 2013. PBIS-based data interventions and teams have been implemented, resulting in the ability for staff to monitor potential behavioral issues and implement immediate solutions. Differentiated instruction and responsive teaching methods have ensured that student scores remain high. The PBIS program has also resulted in the introduction of new student clubs like Mindfulness and Homework Club to address specific challenges faced by students. From posting fun, educational challenges to school updates, Vancas has successfully used social media videos as a tool to connect with students and families and build a sense of community at the school. This community-building ethos is also seen in monthly parent-child breakfasts, career education days with special guests from the community, and in the increase in parent and family participation in volunteering activities. Vancas has also served as the Homeless Liaison for the district, building a wide array of resources to assist families experiencing homelessness. Vancas is currently working toward his Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and holds an M.Ed. Principal Certification from California University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.

Email: kvancas@basd.net

Rhode Island

Patricia A. Cousineau

Warwick Neck School
Warwick School District
Warwick, Rhode Island


Before becoming principal of Warwick Neck School (WNS) in 2011, Patricia Cousineau served Warwick School District as an elementary teacher at Lippitt School for 23 years. Throughout her leadership, Cousineau has continuously positioned herself as lead learner, and her commitment to modeling constant growth has deeply impacted how the WNS community comes together to improve culture and instruction at the school. Through a highly collaborative School Improvement Team, for example, Cousineau has guided the determination and implementation of annual improvement projects, such as the integration of project-based learning into the curriculum through the development of a MakerSpace, which has diversified WNS’s RTI practices while increasing students’ sense of pride and ownership of their learning. As an instructional leader, Cousineau has taken a systematic and hands-on approach; she has worked to maximize the professional development opportunities offered during limited meeting times and is frequently found team-teaching with her staff. Parent Linda Wilk credits Cousineau’s open leadership style for strong community relationships at WNS and her adaptability for helping the school remain resilient in the face of budget cuts and school consolidation. Ever committed to diversity, Cousineau is a firm believer in differentiated instruction that attends to not only the academic but also the social and emotional well-being of all students. She holds B.A. and M.Ed. degrees from Rhode Island College and a Masters of Administration from Providence College. 

Email: patricia.cousineau@warwickschools.org

South Carolina

Rhonda Rhodes

Taylors Elementary School
Greenville County Schools
Taylors, South Carolina


As principal of Taylors Elementary School (TES) for the last five years, Rhonda Rhodes says she aims to foster a climate where success is measured by students’ ability to claim their learning and identify the gifts they want to share with the community. To get there, Rhodes has fostered a foundation with a strong social-emotional environment, led the implementation as a Leader in Me school, and created a comprehensive, student-centered counseling program which earned national recognition from the American School Counselor Association as a RAMP (Recognized ASCA Model Program) School. She has also committed herself to developing teacher leadership among her students, staff, and teachers, calling it “the greatest legacy” she could contribute as principal. In her short tenure at TES, she has implemented a two-year rotation cycle for the Faculty Council, a model that gradually brings every teacher into a leadership position that actively shapes school vision and builds a collective voice on the structure for the coming year. As a result of this work, staff retention has improved, and Taylors has had a Top 10 District Teacher of the Year for the last two years, a significant feat in a district with over 100 schools. Rhodes has served as a teacher and administrator at the middle and elementary school level in various roles since 1993 and is a former district middle school teacher of the year. She holds a B.S. in Elementary Education, a Master’s Degree in Elementary Educational Leadership and Supervision from Clemson University, and has completed coursework for doctoral study in Educational Leadership at the University of South Carolina. 

Email: rhrhodes@greenville.k12.sc.us

South Dakota

Matt Alley

West Central Elementary School
West Central School District
Humboldt, South Dakota


As principal of West Central Elementary School (WCES) for the last nine years, Matt Alley has made it his responsibility to establish a positive and energetic school culture by leading by example. As an instructional leader, he challenges his team to make changes that align practice with a shared vision a school where every child’s learning needs are met. This work has been particularly evident and impactful in his implementation of learner-based instruction. Using funds from a South Dakota Technology in Education grant, Alley led grade-level teams in exploring Personalized and Customized Learning, a process that increased student engagement and improved performance, while contributing to a more cohesive and collaborative teaching culture. To support this shift in instruction, Alley also led WCES through a transition to standards-based grading, creating the opportunity for more responsive teaching practices and more meaningful dialogue with families regarding their student’s performance, including weekly family information meetings for every classroom. Alley is a founder of the New Principals’ Luncheon, an annual statewide networking event that supports the development of freshman administrators, and has served as vice president and president of the executive board of the South Dakota Association of Elementary School Principals, where he currently serves as state representative. He holds a B.A. from the University of Sioux Falls and an M.A. and Educational Specialist degree from the University of South Dakota.

Email: matt.alley@k12.sd.us

Tennessee (Elementary)

Stacy D. Edwards

Andrew Johnson Elementary School
Kingsport City Schools
Kingsport, Tennessee


Dr. Stacy Edwards has served the Kingsport community as a teacher and an administrator since 1998. As principal of John F. Kennedy Elementary, Edwards led a successful turnaround effort, transforming a state report card of D’s and F’s to one of all A’s and B’s within three years. Now principal of Andrew Johnson Elementary School (AJES) for the last seven years, Edwards has led his school to statewide recognition for outstanding growth as a Tennessee DOE Reward School. AJES has also earned distinction for equity under Edwards’s leadership, named a 2018 National ESEA Distinguished School for excellence in serving special populations. These accomplishments reflect Edwards’ commitment to improving instruction and cultivating collaborative professional development. In 2013, AJES led the way for the district as the first site for instructional rounds, yielding generative feedback rooted in a broad, data-driven strategy of school improvement. Faced with challenges such as the loss of Title I funds, Edwards has leveraged community relationships to meet the resource needs of the school while contributing to the broader improvement of public education. By partnering with a local university to create the Kingsport Teaching Academy, he successfully recuperated support staff while creating an alternative to traditional student teaching. Edwards holds an Ed.D. from Lipscomb University, an M.A. in Education from Cumberland University, and B.S. and Specialist degrees in Education from East Tennessee State University.

Email: sedwards@k12k.com

Tennessee (Middle)

Brian K. Partin

Ross N. Robinson Middle School
Kingsport City Schools
Kingsport, Tennessee


Dr. Brian Partin has served Ross N. Robinson Middle School as principal for the last four years, building on a decade of leadership experience at the elementary level. Partin’s approach to school leadership is collaborative, democratic, and community-oriented, while holding high expectations for the professional growth of his team. Bringing a holistic vision for serving student needs, Partin has led a cultural transformation at Robinson Middle. Elevating the importance social and emotional care, he has supported his staff in implementing a schoolwide behavioral expectations framework by taking on the role of a pedagogical coach. Known for his empathy and commitment to service, Partin invites his local and Ross N. Robinson community to join him in thinking and acting globally, including supporting a student initiative to raise funds to provide fresh water to a village in Sudan, a project that earned recognition through the Kingsport City School Entrepreneurship, Education and Excellence Award in 2014. In addition to modeling civic responsibility at the school level, Partin strives to make an impact beyond Kingston; he recently participated in an educational mission to the Dominican Republic, has served as a board member for both the Tennessee Principals Association and NAESP, and has served as a mentor to many up and coming school and district leaders. He holds an Ed.D. from Lipscomb University, an Ed.S. from Lincoln Memorial University, an M.Ed. from Tennessee State University, and a B.A. in Elementary Education from Anderson University.

Email: bpartin@k12k.com


Christal Calhoun

Tool Elementary
Malakoff Independent School District
Tool, Texas


Building on previous experience as a paraprofessional and classroom teacher, Christal Calhoun has spent the last seven years leading Tool Elementary, a rural Pre-K through fifth grade school serving 220 students. Guided by the mantra “Whatever it Takes, Meet Their Needs,” Calhoun has led Tool Elementary in responding to the complex challenges facing its high-poverty and highly mobile student population, putting the physical and emotional needs of every child first. Leveraging relationships with community organizations, she has organized resources to ensure access to basic needs like clothing and food, built a successful mentorship program, and taken on a creative “Granny Calhoun” alter ego aimed at boosting attendance. After tending to students’ foundational well-being, Calhoun has worked to shift intervention toward seeing academic potential in every child, targeting instruction accordingly, and fighting for their success. She assures cohesion of this holistic work by building a community-oriented and collaborative school culture grounded in high expectations, anchored by a daily school-wide morning meeting that she facilitates. Tool Elementary has earned multiple distinctions under Calhoun’s leadership, including the 2018 National ESEA Distinguished School Award and the 2016 National Blue Ribbon School Award. The school has ranked six consecutive years with the TEA Accountability Ranking, most recently earning all six distinctions with an overall grade of 97 in 2018. Calhoun holds an M.Ed. from Stephen F. Austin State University and a B.S. from Texas A&M University.

Email: Christal.Calhoun@malakoffisd.org


David G. Pendergast

Vae View Elementary
Davis School District
Layton, Utah


Dr. David Pendergast became principal of Vae View Elementary, a Pre-K-6 school in Layton, Utah, three years ago. In this short time, he has led the school out of State Turnaround status, transforming culture and deepening stakeholder relationships along the way. With one of the highest poverty rates in the district, this impressive growth has required a holistic approach that neither starts nor ends with academics. Recognizing a need to build trust and increase family investment, Pendergast organized home visits for every student to kick off the school’s improvement efforts. From there, he introduced and strengthened a variety of service programs and whole-child initiatives that emphasize social skill development to ensure that all students have a fair chance at success. Thanks to his efforts, the school has achieved improved behavior and performance, and students regularly use mindfulness and the growth mindset to navigate their lives in and beyond school. Pendergast says these gains would not have been possible without his teachers, who he has worked hard to retain through a dynamic and collaborative professional development culture. Pendergast has advocated for STEAM education at each of his schools, including at VVE, where the school recently received Platinum Level STEM status. He holds an M.A. in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix, as well as Administrative/Supervisory and Special Education Certificates from Utah State University.

Email: dpendergast@dsdmail.net


George R. Dustin-Eichler

Dothan Brook School
Hartford School District
White River Junction, Vermont


As principal of Dothan Brook School (DBS) for the past 8 years, school social worker Joyce Dion says that George R. Dustin-Eichler has created a learning and work environment where “children and adults alike feel connected, are inspired to engage [and] be their best selves, and are heard and valued.” This assessment rings true in Dustin-Eichler’s successful implementation of PBIS and MTSS at DBS, pairing a trauma-informed system of services to address the unmet social, emotional, and mental health needs of students with student-centered data teams that meet regularly to problem-solve and support the success of every student. The program has been so impactful that DBS has received the Exemplar School Award from Vermont PBIS for seven consecutive years. Central to this success has been Dustin-Eichler’s ability to shift faculty culture toward “continuous learning, risk-taking, and innovation” by introducing norms that draw out voices across the faculty and emphasize ongoing assessment and revision of best practices. Dustin-Eichler served as vice chair and is currently the board secretary on the board of directors of The Family Place, an organization devoted to providing community-based family support services. He holds a B.A. in Elementary Education and Political Science from Boston College and a Master’s Degree in Liberal Studies from Dartmouth College, as well as a Principal Certificate from the Upper Valley Graduate School of Education and an Early Childhood Leadership Certificate from the Snelling Center for Government.

Email: dustineichlerg@hartfordschools.net


Nathaniel R. Provencio

Minnieville Elementary
Prince William County Public Schools
Woodbridge, Virginia


Nathaniel Provencio has served Prince William County Public Schools since 2001. From 2010 to 2019, Provencio served as the principal of Minnieville Elementary School. One supervisor describes Provencio as “an amazing instructional leader” who has “established a culture that features an unparalleled level of collaboration and shared ownership for student success.” As a result, Minnieville consistently received recognition for growth throughout Provencio’s tenure; the school increased in state rankings from the 23rd percentile in 2010-2011 to the 83rd percentile in 2017-2018, was named a Distinguished Title I School, and is a four-time Prince William County School of Excellence. Provencio credits these impressive achievements to his implementation of frameworks that have led to highly collaborative and effective PLCs, which have also earned the school praise; Minnieville is an international model PLC and won the 2019 DeFour National PLC School of the Year Award. Provencio and his literacy team implemented a collaborative literacy framework called PRESS IN that has influenced literacy instruction throughout the country. Provencio has led an ambitious effort to increase family and community engagement, with a special focus on empowering economically disadvantaged and English learner families. Provencio was the 2016 Prince William County and The Washington Post Principal of the Year. He holds a B.S. in Education from the University of North Alabama and an M.Ed. in Education Leadership from George Mason University, where he was also named a Top 50 All Time Alumnus.

Email: provennr@pwcs.edu


Alfonso C. López

Lewis and Clark Elementary
Wenatchee School District #246
Wenatchee, Washington


Alfonso C. López’s education career began in 1983 in his native Mexico, where he served as a teacher and principal for three years before moving to the U.S. López learned English through several years as an agricultural worker before returning to public education as a paraeducator while completing his degree. After teaching at Lewis and Clark Elementary (LACE) for nearly a decade, he has now served the school as principal for the last 12 years, where he has applied his unique, well-rounded experience toward transformative impact. While teaching, López began organizing with his colleagues to move LACE to a bilingual education model, a program that he has continued to implement and refine as principal. The program has greatly benefited the school’s diverse K-5 population—100 percent of whom participate in the Free and Reduced Price Meals program—by increasing family engagement, opening up future career opportunities, strengthening academic performance for English and Spanish speakers alike, and providing a foundation for other programs like PBIS and GLAD. López has supported the program through creative professional development opportunities, including an international teaching mission to Oaxaca, Mexico, which has allowed LACE teachers to witness techniques for teaching Spanish while increasing cultural understanding. López is regarded highly for his integrity, taking an authentically team-oriented approach to leadership while striving to cultivate personalized, culturally-relevant learning opportunities at LACE. He holds degrees from Washington State University and Heritage University. 

Email: lopez.a@wenatcheeschools.org

West Virginia (Elementary)

John E. Jorden

Ritchie Elementary School
Ohio County School District
Wheeling, West Virginia


John Jorden believes that “leadership is about change” and that change is never an individual endeavor. As leader of Ritchie Elementary School (RES) for the past 12 years, Jorden sees himself as “head coach” of his team, empowering teachers to see themselves as agents of change. Jorden credits his success at RES to his ability to build a strong and effective team, first by investing in rigorous hiring processes, and second by retaining teachers through professional development that inspires ongoing growth. Each spring, for example, he facilitates a graduate-level book study class, while supporting teachers to put their learning into practice in the classroom through close supervision of analysis- and action-oriented PLCs. As a result, NICHE ranks RES fifth for elementary schools in the state, while the teaching staff ranks first. In 2018, RES students met the annual target in ELA and achieved the highest elementary mathematics scores in the region. These achievements are particularly impressive given the socioeconomic challenges faced by RES’s 300 Pre-K-5 students, all of whom receive free and reduced-price meals. Jorden works with community partners to ensure all students have the foundation for success, including through a PTO-organized Block Party featuring free backpacks and school supplies for all students. He holds an M.A. in Ed. Administration from West Virginia University and a B.A. in Elementary Education with a Math Specialization 4-8 from West Liberty State College.

Email: jjorden@k12.wv.us

West Virginia (Middle)

Deborah L. Starr

Kermit 6-8 Middle
Mingo County Public Schools
Kermit, West Virginia


Deborah Starr has served Kermit 6-8 Middle School (KMS) as principal for the last five years, where she has successfully cultivated a positive climate for students and teachers alike. She has created space for teacher self-reflection, for example, though weekly Kermit Konversations, while Vertical Teaming has improved grade-level instruction through collective strategizing. Meanwhile, Kermit Kids of Character, Academic Go-Getters, and the Kermit Student Leadership Team recognize the various forms of student excellence needed to make KMS thrive. Starr is a skilled development leader and has emphasized grant implementation as a way of expanding academic, physical education, and nutrition programming at KMS, including an initiative that brings together AmeriCorps and local business partners to teach students how to grow their own herbs and vegetables. She recently secured a grant from the Education Alliance, in partnership with the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, aimed at increasing seventh-grade participation in college visits. KMS has received district recognition for its strong community partnerships under Starr’s leadership, exemplified through programs like her “Families that Read Together, Succeed Together” initiative. Through a range of supportive programming, Starr also led KMS to receive a West Virginia Schools Balanced Scorecard in Mathematics. Starr has taught as an Adjunct at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College; she holds a B.A. in Elementary Education from Midway University, an M.Ed. from Salem University, and an Early Childhood Education Certificate from Marshall University. 

Email: dstarr@k12.wv.us


Michele M. Trawicki

Marcy Elementary School
Hamilton School District
Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin


As principal of Marcy Elementary School (MES) since 2008, Michele Trawicki has focused on building a cohesive structure of shared leadership, trusting community partnerships, and a reputation for high performance that she says is a result of “tactical planning and implementation of a rigorous curriculum.” With the goal of supporting instruction based on high standards for all students, Trawicki has adopted a “learning conversations” model of professional development that holds teacher voice and needs as the foundation. By implementing a Teacher Expertise Evaluation System, she has elevated self-reflection, peer feedback, and risk-taking in her staff, which in turn has led to various teacher-determined professional development initiatives. Eleven years into her tenure, Trawicki has a decade of successful PBIS implementation under her belt, having led the school to “School of Merit” and “Distinguished School” recognition. MES has consistently scored first in the county for state reading and math standards, with significant progress toward closing the achievement gap. The school has also scored “Significantly Exceeds Expectations” on Wisconsin's State School Report Card every year since 2011 when the card was introduced. Prior to leading MES, which is a 2019 National Blue Ribbon School nominee, Trawicki served Tonawanda Elementary School as a teacher and administrator for 15 years. She holds a B.S. in Elementary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, and an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from Cardinal Stritch University.

Email: trawmi@hamilton.k12.wi.us


Keri L. Shannon

Stocktrail Elementary
Campbell County School District 1
Gillette, Wyoming


Dr. Keri Shannon is a resourceful leader with a unique track record for partnering with the media to advance public education at the local level. At her first principalship assignment in Laramie, Wyoming, Shannon collaborated with a local investigative reporter to raise awareness about the city’s refusal to pave roads around the school, ultimately leading to the resolution of a long-standing issue that had negatively affected student safety. Later, when faced with the difficult task of launching a new Dual Language Immersion (DLI) program while opening brand-new Stocktrail Elementary School, where she has been principal since 2016, Shannon partnered with local media and community groups to build knowledge and interest in the now sought-after program. This proactive, community-based approach helped her tackle the key challenges of the implementation process by establishing creative partnerships, including an international teacher exchange and a network that facilitates collaboration between districts implementing similar DLI programs statewide. Shannon is highly regarded by her colleagues for her conscientious, student-centered leadership and her self-motivated dedication to serving the field. Shannon is active in professional associations advancing bilingual and multicultural education, as well as the professional leadership of women. She has served as a consultant to the Puerto Rico Department of Education and holds Ed.D. and M.S. degrees in Administration from Texas A&M University and Texas A&M International University respectively. She completed an Alternative Certification from the University of Houston after receiving a BS in Advertising from the University of Texas at Austin.

Email: kshannon@ccsd.k12.wy.us

Private Schools

California (Private)

Tammy Kirkpatrick

First Lutheran School
Torrance, California


Tammy Kirkpatrick has served students in Texas and California as a teacher and administrator for the last 28 years. As principal of First Lutheran School for three years, Kirkpatrick has led the charge to make service a central component of the education process, launching a program that encourages students at all levels to pursue projects that make a difference in their community. This focus has worked in tandem with efforts to strengthen the internal school community through initiatives such as First Friday at the Flagpole assemblies, which celebrate student victories. Kirkpatrick has shifted the professional learning culture at the school, moving away from whole-group methods to empower teachers to identify their learning goals and choose their preferred pathway to learning. The program has positively impacted instruction by holding teachers accountable to applying and reflecting on their learning in the classroom. In prior posts, Kirkpatrick has been an advocate for online learning, having established two new educational options for K-12 students in Los Angeles County and San Diego County and realized a 137-point API gain as Head of School for Mosaica Online Academy. Kirkpatrick holds an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from Concordia University; a Cross-cultural, Language, and Development Certificate from the University of San Diego; a California Teaching Credential from the University of California, Irvine; and a B.A. in Child Development with Great Distinction from San Jose State University. 

Email: kirkpatrickt@flchurch.org

Illinois (Private)

Habeeb M. Quadri

MCC Academy
Morton Grove, Illinois


Habeeb Quadri has served as principal of the Muslim Community Center Academy (MCCA) since 2002, where he has focused on changing school culture, financial turnaround, and transforming educational standards. He led MCCA to become one of the first Islamic parochial schools to receive national accreditation by implementing a comprehensive improvement plan that engaged stakeholders at all levels, a process that restored parents’ trust in leadership and improved standardized test scores from a 72-percent average to 88 percent. Quadri also undertook a dramatic financial restructuring that allowed the school to pay off its debts and balance its budget while building a sizable endowment to purchase a new property to accommodate its extensive waitlist. Through this transition, Quadri worked closely with families and teachers to identify curricular improvement goals and implement measures to make change sustainable, including adding new layers of administrative leadership. Today, MCCA plays an essential role in the community and offers students rich opportunities to grow academically, socially, and culturally to become global citizens. Quadri is on the principal advisory board and a part-time staffer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Principal Center and the founder of High Quality Educational Consulting. He holds an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from Wayne State University and a B.A. in the Teaching of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago and has pursued continued advanced studies with Harvard University’s Professional Development Program. 

Email: habeeb.quadri@mccacademy.org

Kentucky (Private)

Matt R. Grosser

St. Mary School
Diocese of Covington
Alexandria, Kentucky


In his eight years as principal of St. Mary School (SMS), Matt R. Grosser has focused on improving culture, increasing enrollment, and elevating academic standards. By maximizing instructional time, updating resources, and investing in more effective professional development, Grosser has cultivated a positive and collegial atmosphere, which has rippled out to impact students and families. Grosser established an intervention block to shore up St. Mary’s RTI program, leading to increased reading fluency within the first year and sustained gains on standardized test scores across seven years. The initiative has sparked increased staff collaboration and has led to an ongoing PLC partnership with Xavier University. These gains helped SMS achieve National Blue Ribbon School status in 2016 and has had the overall impact of raising the school’s academic bar, which has in turn helped Grosser meet the enrollment demands; in close collaboration with church leadership and other stakeholders, Grosser has worked diligently to recruit families of not-yet-school-aged children, leading to an increase from 317 to 483 students since 2012. According to the SMS assistant principal, Grosser “brings everything we do back to our foundational roots in our faith.” Grosser is a 2019 recipient of the National Catholic Education Association’s Learn, Lead, Proclaim Award. He holds an M.Ed. Education Administration from Xavier University, as well as a B.A. in Secondary Education and an A.A. in Spanish from Thomas More College.

Email: matt.grosser@saintmaryparish.com

Louisiana (Private)

Jack V. Nelson

St. George Catholic School
Diocese of Baton Rouge
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Colleagues liken Jack Nelson’s leadership to the roots of the oak tree that symbolizes St. George Catholic School, where he currently serves as principal. Providing nourishment and strength to students, teachers, and spiritual community, Nelson’s focus over his seven-year tenure has been on maximizing curriculum and expanding early childhood and special education resources for the 1,178 students he serves. Driven by a commitment to ensure all students have a strong foundation for academic, spiritual, and social success, Nelson launched a new Pre-K program at St. George’s, culminating almost a decade of planning that engaged around 2,500 stakeholders as donors. The program opened in a brand new building at full capacity of 110 students, supported by Nelson’s leadership in staffing and implementation. In 2015, he collaborated with the Diocese of Baton Rouge to open a dyslexia/academic support lab to facilitate early pull-out interventions for students diagnosed with dyslexia and other moderate learning disabilities; the lab serves 21 students in grades 1-8, working closely with classroom teachers to align skill-based education with their general studies. St. George’s was named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence in 2016. Prior to taking on his current role, Nelson served as a principal of private Catholic schools in the Pacific Northwest for 12 years. He holds an M.Ed. from City University and a B.A. from Eastern Washington University. 

Email: jack.nelson@sgschoolbr.org

Massachusetts (Private)

Deborah C. O'Neil

St. Bernadette School
Diocese of Worcester
Northborough, Massachusetts


Throughout her 34-year career of teaching and principalship, Deborah O’Neil has consistently advocated for educational practices that reach underserved populations, particularly students needing special education support. When she became principal of St. Bernadette School (SBS), she found that a lack of adequate or substantive assessments was preventing students from fully accessing their education. Already experienced at implementing special education programming, she made it her first directive to lead a comprehensive assessment of individual student learning needs and make the staffing and curricular changes necessary to meet them. Fourteen years later, the program is serving over 50 students, with resources being constantly developed to improve instruction. O’Neil has extended this same passion to her instructional leadership at the school level, leading SBS through a re-accreditation process, a successful National Blue Ribbon School Award application in 2014, and the implementation of such programs as Discipline with Purpose, which establishes age-appropriate language to establish shared behavioral norms. In each of her initiatives, O’Neil’s leadership has been guided by a community-driven approach and a deep commitment to service, always making sure that parents understand the purpose driving changes in instruction. As leader of SBS, she has done what she believes effective principals should do: “actively engage the community to create shared responsibility for student performance and development.” O’Neil holds an M.Ed. from the University of Massachusetts and a B.A. from Elms College. 

Email: principal@stb-school.org

Department of State, Overseas Schools


Paola Torres de Pereira

Academia Cotopaxi, American International School
Quito, Ecuador


Paola Torres de Pereira has served Academia Cotopaxi, an American International School in Quito, Ecuador, as an administrator since 2002. In various roles including director of Admission and Outreach, lower school assistant principal, early childhood principal, and now principal, Torres de Pereira has established a child-centered culture that is inclusive to students of all abilities while meeting the specific needs of expat children. She serves as the senior administrator for inclusion, overseeing the expansion of special education services while supporting instructional adjustments and increased understanding and appreciation for all learners. Among her teachers, Torres de Pereira has cultivated expertise in inquiry-driven practices that use evidence-based methods to target social and emotional learning as well as academic goals while centering student agency; as of 2014, students no longer receive traditional homework but instead engage in home-based learning through self-determined inspiration projects. Torres de Pereira is the primary founder of IMAGINE, a bilingual inclusive preschool for children ages 12 months to five years that uses child-center practices that display deep respect for each child, their personal stories, and their learning. She is active in Quito-based groups focused on disaster relief and education and holds an M.S. in Exceptional Student Education, a B.S. in Elementary and Early Childhood Education from Barry University, and a Certificate of International School Leadership from the Principal’s Training Center.

Email: ppereira@cotopaxi.k12.ec


Rebecca D. Jobes

International School of Panama
San Miguelito, Panama City, Panama


A fellow administrator says of Dr. Rebecca Jobes that “she asks nothing of those who she works with that she does not expect of herself.” As principal of the International School of Panama (ISP) for the last five years, Jobes’ high expectations for leadership have been evident in her meticulous implementation of student-centered and constructivist teaching practices, which she has carried out while building a culture of feedback and developing systems to maximize instruction and planning time. Jobes led ISP’s transition from a traditional grading system to Standards Based Grading and Reporting, engaging students, parents, and stakeholders to make the necessary philosophical shifts toward personalized instruction. To address the complex needs of an international, multilingual student population, Jobes has deepened community relationships through initiatives like the Parent Advisory Council, which channels feedback, concerns, and creative ideas to make the school responsive on its path of change. Jobes has also led the implementation of a Game and Maker Area, which responds to the wet-season need for additional play space while building an inclusive, English-language play alternative. Jobes holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. in Educational Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado, where she has also taught as an adjunct professor. She completed a Senior Fellowship with Catapult Leadership in Denver, Colorado, and holds a B.A. in Psychology and Journalism from the University of Denver.

Email: bjobes@isp.edu.pa



The 2019 NDP Program is sponsored, in part, by: