2011 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.


Connie D. Cooley
Maxwell Elementary School, Tuscaloosa County, District III
Duncanville, Alabama

Connie Cooley sees the principal’s primary role as cultivating a school environment in which everyone shares a vision of focusing on learners—with all resources, decisions, and actions aligned to support student learning. She considers one of her top accomplishments as a principal to be creating a school climate in which the entire staff works as a team so that teaching and learning thrive, staff members celebrate their efforts, and kids come first. “When the last bus drives away in the afternoon,” she says, “I ask myself, ‘Did my actions support our mission today?’” Cooley has also ensured that her staff and students at Maxwell Elementary benefit from a technology-rich school environment that enables teachers to make instruction engaging. Through effective communication, innovative after-school programs, and school volunteer opportunities, Cooley has built strong partnerships with students’ families and the community surrounding her rural school. These ties have promoted a sense of wide accountability for children’s academic achievement and growth. “You simply cannot overstate the importance of parents and community members,” says Cooley. “The Maxwell ‘village’ shares in the responsibility and the reward for student performance and development.” After heading another elementary school for seven years, Clements arrived at Maxwell Elementary in 2007. The Pre-K-5 school currently serves 514 students. Cooley earned her B.S. and her M.A. from the University of Alabama.


Timothy P. Doran
Denali Elementary School, Fairbanks North Star Borough School District
Fairbanks, Alaska

Timothy Doran says his greatest accomplishment as a principal is “having established a calm, productive environment in each school under my guidance, allowing students to grow into competent and caring young adults” and “creating a place that is warm and welcoming for parents.” He accomplished this by promoting the development of “a team involving teachers, support staff, parents, and students focused on the growth of children.” A principal for 25 years, Doran has led three schools since 1986. He began his current principalship in 1990. Denali Elementary School is an urban school with 383 kindergarten through sixth-grade students. A highlight of Davis’s career was overseeing a schoolwide project at Denali Elementary that started with the gift of a story to the school by a Tsimshian Indian. Over the course of four years, the school acquired a red cedar pole and launched a process through which students observed the storyteller leading the carving of a panther and raven in the pole. The pole now stands in the middle of the school’s playground. Sixth graders annually pass on the story behind the structure to the entire student body. Besides nurturing his staff’s development, Davis has advanced the professional growth of many principals in his district and state. He earned a B.A. from Le Moyna College in New York and an M.A. from the University of Alaska.


Deborah K. Bryson
Cottonwood Elementary School, Vail Unified School District No. 20
Tucson, Arizona

When Deborah Bryson became principal of Cottonwood Elementary School in 2008, she faced a negative school climate. So she initiated multiple plans to improve the environment and accountability. These plans included introducing student discipline and teacher termination processes. Under Bryson’s leadership, the school has become a place where positive and respectful relationships now exist, teachers are competent and accountable, and high expectations are the order of the day, she says. The suburban school serves 688 K-6 students. Bryson previously led Desert Willow Elementary School, another Tucson site, for eight years. In both principalships, Bryson has made supporting student achievement a top priority, developing and maintaining high academic standards to ensure excellence. As a result, each of the schools has received honors as a “State of Arizona Excelling School” multiple times over consecutive years and has earned Arizona Educational Foundation A+ Awards of Excellence. Bryson plans and presents to her faculty research-based training tied to student growth and school goals. Throughout her career, Bryson also has promoted the professional development of school and district leaders. She has served as a mentor, directed graduate course work for administrators, and supervised leadership internships. Indeed, she has guided many members of her district’s current leadership team. Bryson holds a B.A. from the University of Arizona and an M.Ed. from Northern Arizona University.


Elizabeth Sue Shults
Benton Middle School, Benton Public Schools
Benton, Arkansas

Sue Shults can boast of her students’ benchmark test results: Benton Middle School seventh graders last year ranked first in Arkansas in science, fifth in the state in literacy, and 11th in the state in math based on assessment scores of schools of similar size. Yet she first cites the “extremely strong staff” she has assembled during the last 12 years among her most significant accomplishments as a principal. “This staff is committed to our students in every way possible,” she says. “They’re positive and cooperative with each other and with students and their parents.” Shults has built strong rapport with her staff and school community, in part by being approachable to all of those with whom she works to serve children. Maintaining a safe school climate where respectful behavior flourishes also has been a priority of her tenure at Benton Middle School. When prospective students and parents visit the school, students tend to share the school’s emphasis on safety, respect, and hard work without adult prompting, Shults notes. Before becoming principal of Benton Middle School in 1999, she served as the school’s assistant principal for four years and as an English teacher at the suburban site for nine years. The school currently enrolls 765 sixth and seventh graders. Shults has a B.S. and an M.S. from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas.

Regina R. Stewman
Robert E. Lee Elementary School, Springdale Public Schools
Springdale, Arkansas

Regina Stewman launched the Lee Mobile Library one summer as a remedy to the limited access to books that many of her school’s families faced. Her school’s attendance area is exceptionally long and runs parallel to a highway. Stewman began driving her vehicle to households at both ends of the attendance area to deliver books purchased with grant money she won. As word spread, the program received a donated van. Area businesses donated money for gas, a custom paint job, servicing and detailing, and new tires for the van. And a local university donated $5,000 in books to expand the mobile library’s selection. As principal of Robert E. Lee Elementary since 2002, Stewman and her staff have especially focused on improving reading, math, and writing. Reviewing student performance data led them to make writing instruction systematic to better serve struggling students, particularly given the high numbers who have limited English proficiency and face challenges related to poverty. As a result of the improvements, the urban school has received recognition as an “achieving” school for the past two years. Stewman has also succeeded in involving parents in education by hosting family literacy nights at Lee Elementary. The school currently enrolls 460 K-5 students. Stewman holds a B.Ed. and an M.Ed. from the University of Arkansas and an Ed.D. from Harding University in Arkansas.


Randy H. Einem (Representing Private Schools)
St. John’s Lutheran School, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
Orange, California

Randy Einem has led the transformation of three schools from conditions he describes as “mediocrity and status quo to excellent, outstanding learning environments.” In nearly 30 years as a principal, Einem has headed Lutheran schools in Wisconsin, Indiana, Texas, and California. In his previous principalship, he helped re-establish a strong academic reputation for a school in downtown Houston, Texas, guiding a building plan and growing enrollment. In an earlier principalship in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Einem also provided visionary leadership, cultivating school pride and a sense of excellence among faculty members, students, and parents that resulted in significant enrollment growth and the completion of building projects. The Indiana school doubled the number of classes per grade level under his leadership. Since 2008 Einem has been principal of St. John’s Lutheran School, where he supervises 797 elementary-grade students. Last year the school earned “exemplary school” status from the National Lutheran School Accreditation organization. Einem credits “extensive work and energy by faculty and staff” for this honor. He facilitated this achievement and those of his previous schools by leading each site through changes that affected curriculum development, instructional improvement, marketing design, funding security, and organizational governance. Einem has a B.S. from Concordia University in Nebraska and an M.S. from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.


Penny S. Fraumeni
Fairgrove Academy, Hacienda La Puente Unified School District
La Puente, California

The school Penny Fraumeni launched in 1997 began with her winning response to her district’s call to principals to propose a school of their dreams. Fraumeni’s vision was to create a magnet for the visual and performing arts and technology and serve the area’s most at-risk students. Once her concept received approval, Fraumeni worked with builders, architects, and district administrators for nine months to open Fairgrove Academy in a modern facility on a 1960s-era school site. She selected staff members, designed classrooms, and ordered furniture and educational supplies. Today Fraumeni’s “open-enrollment choice” suburban public school serves 928 K-8 students. The school showed steady progress in its early years but struggled academically in 2001. Fraumeni then spearheaded a turnaround focused on improving instruction to meet diverse student needs. She instituted shared decision making with her staff, leading the school to sustained academic growth and improvement. The site received honors in 2010 as a California Distinguished School and twice won recognition as a Title 1 Academic Achieving School. Contemplating the future, Fraumeni expresses confidence that her school will continue to thrive after she retires: “I’ve worked hard to build capacity in others, establishing purpose, systems, and a collaborative culture that will enable the staff to adapt to new challenges and new leadership when that time comes.” She holds a B.A. and an M.Ed. from Whittier College in California.


Mitchell C. Forsberg
Gypsum Elementary School, Eagle County Schools
Gypsum, Colorado

“It will be sweet to repeat” has become a mantra for continued gains in student achievement at the school Mitchell Forsberg has led since 2004. Gypsum Elementary students’ academic performance in recent years has earned the small-town school prestigious accolades. These include awards as Colorado’s 2010 National Title I Distinguished School for Closing the Achievement Gap and as a Five-Star School by the organization Edison Learning. The Pre-K-5 school, which serves 362 students, made significant improvements in part by analyzing student achievement data to set goals and meet individual learners’ needs. Forsberg also has fostered a student-centered culture of achievement at the school. “We have a schoolwide focus on the whole child where ‘these kids are all our kids,’” he says. Offering a breakfast program and extensive after-school programs are some ways the school meets children’s comprehensive needs. Parent volunteers help maintain the breakfast program, and parents and community members also are involved in activities such as reading with students in English and Spanish at the school. Gypsum Elementary has led its school district in implementing an educational reform called the Teacher Advancement Program. The program offers ongoing teacher training, rigorous evaluations, pay-for-performance incentives, and multiple career paths for educators. Forsberg earned a bachelor’s degree from Calvin College in Michigan and a master’s from Adams State College in Colorado.


Lawrence P. DiPalma
John G. Prendergast School, Ansonia School District
Ansonia, Connecticut

Two years ago, Lawrence DiPalma arrived at an urban school reconfigured to meet No Child Left Behind requirements. Half of his staff and 70 students joined him as newcomers to the site. DiPalma soon established a schoolwide vision and mission, along with the motto, “Excellence is the norm.” He formed a professional learning community to ensure staff members would meet high expectations for academic performance and behavior. And he created a school culture that calls for the use of results data as a basis for all managerial, academic, behavioral, and policy decision making in the school. “This change represented a shift from anecdotal and experimental evidence,” he says, adding that more than 40 percent of the teachers hadn’t received training in data-driven decision making and effective teaching strategies before he arrived. Besides welcoming parent and community involvement in his school in traditional ways, DiPalma has engaged them on the school improvement plan committee and the building data team. The school currently serves 810 K-6 students. In 15 years as a principal, DiPalma has led four schools. He also served as an assistant principal and math coordinator at a K-8 school, as a math teacher at a middle school, and as a public and private elementary school teacher. He has a bachelor’s degree from Holy Cross College in Massachusetts and an M.Ed. from Bridgeport University in Connecticut.


Sylvia Henderson
Lulu Ross Elementary School, Milford School District
Milford, Delaware

Sylvia Henderson has been a big promoter of using professional development to enhance staff and student learning. In her seven years as a principal, she has ensured that her school staff members have received advanced training that’s cutting-edge and research-based. Early in her tenure at LuLu Ross Elementary, Henderson participated in training on creating efficient systems for school management. “It led us to re-evaluate all systems in light of student success,” she says. This training, combined with her doctoral coursework in education and postgraduate development opportunities, prompted her to institute strategies to maintain a strong focus on learning as she and her staff manage the school through systematic processes. She established and participates in professional learning communities that encompass all teachers and also developed instructional coaches to support effective teaching. She visits every classroom several times a week to observe instruction, and she holds monthly “data days” with teachers to review student learning results. Teacher leadership groups and “goal teams” meet monthly to review her school’s programs, and parents and community members are part of the process. Signs of the school’s success in reaching out to community members include a high rate of parent involvement and strong student achievement. LuLu Ross Elementary has a population of 696 second- through fifth-grade students. Henderson has a bachelor’s degree from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania and a master’s from Salisbury State University in Maryland.  She earned a doctorate from Wilmington College in Delaware and attended the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Principals’ Center.


Elizabeth A. Kennedy
Bak Middle School of the Arts, Palm Beach County Schools
West Palm Beach, Florida

Elizabeth Kennedy has established a pattern of school excellence in her 14 years as a principal. Under her leadership, three elementary schools with diverse populations have demonstrated high levels of student achievement. Kennedy became principal of Bak Middle School of the Arts in 2006. The urban school provides a popular magnet program in the arts. With admissions based on arts auditions as well as a lottery process, the school serves 1,360 sixth- through eighth-grade students. Although the school had solid student performance levels when Kennedy arrived, she raised the standard. “We used data to make significant strides in closing the achievement gap,” she says. “I’m most proud that I’ve raised awareness of making sure that all subgroups of students experience success.” The school’s academic test scores are now among the highest in the state of Florida. The site won recognition as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2008 and also garnered awards as a Magnet School of Distinction, a Florida Arts Achieve Model School, and a Magnet School of Excellence. Kennedy previously led a school to become the sixth in the nation to host an authorized primary-years International Baccalaureate program. At all three schools she has served, she has guided teachers to promote peer learning. She received her B.S. from Florida State University and her M.Ed. from Florida Atlantic University.


Robert L. Heaberlin, Jr.
Lee Middle School, Coweta County School System
Sharpsburg, Georgia

“As a leader, I’ve been fortunate to surround myself with quality staff members who love students and see education as a profession,” says Bob Heaberlin. In 18 years as a principal, Heaberlin has led elementary, middle, and high schools. In his first principalship, he guided a high-poverty elementary school to become the second school in the state of Georgia to implement a year-round education model. He also introduced innovative school scheduling, a French language program, and the practice of keeping students with the same teacher for more than one year to foster strong bonds. In Heaberlin’s previous principalship, he transformed a low-achieving high school into one that received statewide recognition for exemplary academic performance. He accomplished the turnaround by revamping the curriculum to raise expectations for all students to succeed. Heaberlin opened Lee Middle School in 2006 with a new staff and many students who moved to the site because of redistricting changes. Under Heaberlin’s leadership, the suburban school has achieved scores that are the second-highest in Georgia on a state-mandated competency test, and its eighth graders have ranked first in the state for excelling on a statewide writing assessment all five years. Today Lee Middle School enrolls 968 sixth- through eighth-grade students. Heaberlin earned a B.S.Ed. from Ohio University, an M.Ed. from Francis Marion College in South Carolina, and an Ed.D. from the University of Georgia.


Joseph E. Pollard, Jr.
Tyrone Elementary School, Fayette County School System
Tyrone, Georgia

Eddie Pollard has hired and mentored nine assistant principals during the 24-year course of his career as a school leader. Six have become principals themselves. He also has led two schools, including his current school, to win statewide acclaim as Georgia Schools of Excellence. He has been at Tyrone Elementary, a suburban K-5 school with 350 students, for 11 years. Since its 2007 recognition as a school of excellence in its state, the school has continued garnering gold or platinum achievement awards for student performance on a test measuring mastery of the state curriculum. For five consecutive years, Tyrone Elementary has had the highest percentage of students meeting or exceeding the goal. “A [school] culture of professional learning must foster high expectations for student achievement,” says Pollard. He and his school leadership team, with input from the faculty, plan activities for educators’ professional development on the basis of the school’s goals for student achievement. He leads a review of student achievement data that informs work on the school improvement plan. Pollard has been a principal of three elementary schools and one middle school. During one of his previous principalships, he arranged a visit by former President Jimmy Carter to an elementary school to speak to students and staff members. Pollard received a B.S.Ed. from Georgia Southern College and an M.Ed. from West Georgia College.

Kathryn B. Wood (Representing Private Schools)
Queen of Angels Catholic School, Archdiocese of Atlanta, National Catholic Educational Association
Roswell, Georgia

When Kathy Wood arrived at Queen of Angels Catholic School in 2003, she encountered “an air of mistrust among faculty, administration, and parents,” she says. But she boosted staff morale by fostering a shared vision for the school’s future and a collaborative work environment. She also built trust among parents, engaging them in a school advisory council and attending all home-school organization board meetings. Wood considers one of her top accomplishments to be her creation of school leadership opportunities for faculty and staff members. For example, she has encouraged teachers to take on such roles as curriculum experts and coordinators. Another source of pride for Wood is her success in strengthening her school’s Catholic identity and spiritual life. “Parents, faculty, and staff not only see images of our faith, such as prayer altars, in each classroom, but also live it through prayerful reflections; collecting games, gently used toys, and school items for our local foster home; and reaching out to the soldiers overseas by sending cards, prayers, and special treats,” says Wood. Her suburban school was named a 2007 National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. Today it enrolls 504 students in kindergarten through the eighth grade. Wood earned a B.A. at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, an M.Ed. from the University of South Carolina, and an M.Ed. and a Ph.D. from Georgia State University.


Joyce K. F. Iwashita
Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Elementary and Intermediate School, Hawaii Department of Education
Papaikou, Hawaii

One reason Joyce Iwashita became a principal 12 years ago was to help teachers become more effective at enabling students to succeed. Today, Iwashita considers one of her top accomplishments as a principal to be her instructional leadership. In this role, she has fostered teachers’ learning about effective instructional practices. “Teacher leaders have significant influence on student performance, as well as influencing the performance of other teachers in the school,” says Iwashita. Since she started her current principalship in 2004, the rural school of 270 K-8 students has seen marked improvements in academic performance. The school’s rates of student success on statewide assessments have increased from 38 percent in 2004 to 62 percent in 2010 for reading and from 9 percent to 47 percent in math. Iwashita’s efforts to build positive relationships with parents and community members have helped make possible the student achievement gains. When she arrived at the school, plans were under way to restructure it. Iwashita solicited the assistance of teachers and staff members to cultivate a culture of student success. She also collaborated with her staff and community to establish a compelling school vision. Since 2007 the school has hosted annual celebrations where community members provide musical and dance performances. Iwashita earned a B.Ed. from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu and an M.Ed. from Heritage College in Washington.


Susan G. Williamson
William Howard Taft Elementary School, Boise Independent School District
Boise, Idaho

Susan Williamson has led the transformation of an urban elementary school once seen as one of the least desirable in its district. Since becoming the school’s principal in 1998, she has shared her belief that all children can learn regardless of socioeconomic status and instituted a strong emphasis on continuous improvement. “What I brought with me from my previous personal and professional experiences was an understanding of what a vision of a high-performing school looks like; the commitment to provide the necessary support to staff, student, and parents; and the knowledge base to guide the changes that must take place,” she says. Williamson used a framework for promoting schoolwide improvement. As she helped her staff use classroom assessment data to boost student learning and the school adopted a culture of striving for excellence, student achievement levels rose dramatically. The school soon drew local, state, and national attention. In 2008 Williamson formed a team to welcome more than 40 refugee children to the school. The welcoming team’s efforts included visits to newcomers’ homes and a two-week summer camp for the non-English-speaking students. Williamson is a strong proponent of community service in her school, which serves a high-poverty population of 362 Pre-K-6 students. She holds a B.Ed. from McMurry University in Texas, an M.A. from the University of Colorado, and an Ed.D. from Texas A&M University.


Suzanne Hahn
East Richland Elementary School, East Richland Community Unit School District No. 1
Olney, Illinois

The students and staff of Suzanne Hahn’s school exercise author Dr. Stephen Covey’s “seven habits of highly effective people” daily to promote individual and school success. These practices are part of a leadership model for students that Hahn established using Covey’s concepts. Hahn opened East Richland Elementary School in 2000. By setting a collaborative, positive school climate based on high expectations for all students, she met the challenge of uniting parents as well as the teaching staffs of four schools that closed at the new school’s launch. Hahn participated in the design of the building and monitored its construction. She also developed new procedures, operations, and curricula for the school. Her key achievements during her tenure at East Richland Elementary School include establishing an exemplary reading program. She credits “repeated professional development on best reading practices with a consistent consultant over a five-year span.” With the expansion of the program, Hahn’s school became a successful demonstration site through which staff members “allow continuous school visitors to learn about best reading practices.” Enrollment at the rural school has reached 1,106 Pre-K-5 students. With 18 years of experience as an elementary school principal, Hahn last served as an assistant superintendent in her current school district. She received a B.S. from MacMurray College in Illinois and a master’s from Illinois State University.


Christine M. Foxen Collier
Center for Inquiry at Schools 2, 84, and 27, Indianapolis Public Schools
Indianapolis, Indiana

More than a decade ago, Christine Collier co-designed and opened a magnet school for children in kindergarten through eighth grade. She then led the site, known as Center for Inquiry at School 2, to become the first International Baccalaureate World School offering both primary-years and middle-years programs. It received a National Blue Ribbon Award in 2009. Replicating the successful model, Collier in 2006 opened a second Center for Inquiry (CFI) school in her district to meet parental demands for a rigorous public school. That school, known as Center for Inquiry at School 84, has revitalized public education in its neighborhood and now has a lengthy waiting list. The first of the two urban schools currently serves 345 K-8 students, and the second serves 334. Both schools have achieved Adequate Yearly Progress annually and have been honored as Magnet Schools of Excellence by the Magnet Schools of America. While continuing to serve as principal of those schools, Collier also now heads a third CFI school, which opened in the fall of 2011. Collier has built and sustained partnerships with universities, neighborhood organizations, local agencies and businesses, school families, and community leaders. She uses their support to “positively impact student achievement and growth within our urban school district.” She earned a B.A. from Marian College in Indiana and an M.S. from Indiana University/Purdue University–Indianapolis.


Christi A. Lines (Representing Private Schools)
St. Paul's Lutheran School, Evangelical Lutheran Education Association
Waverly, Iowa

When Christi Lines arrived at St. Paul’s Lutheran School more than decade ago, she faced severe challenges. But her strong leadership provided the support the staff needed and proved instrumental in rebuilding ties between her school and the church with which it is related. During her tenure as principal, Lines has increased enrollment in the school despite necessary tuition increases and difficult economic times for the local population. Today the school serves 87 students in preschool and 141 in kindergarten through sixth grade. Lines has worked to enhance education at her school through the use of technology. To that end, she has encouraged all staff members to visit other schools to observe ways they can strengthen their school. She has cultivated relationships with parents and the community to overcome barriers to student learning. In fostering a welcoming school culture for students’ families, she has provided opportunities for parents and others to visit classrooms, volunteer daily in the building, lead activities in the parent-teacher organization, serve on school committees, and participate in other ways. The school has partnered with a local retirement community, hospital, churches, businesses, law enforcement and community organizations, and a college to provide children with enriching experiences. Says Lines: “It is a blessing to love my calling.” She has a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Northern Iowa.


Joelle D. McConnaha
Helen Lemme Elementary School, Iowa City Community School District
Iowa City, Iowa

Joelle McConnaha has led two schools to earn national recognition from the U.S. Department of Education as Blue Ribbon Schools. The first school she headed as a principal won this distinction after demonstrating outstanding student achievement levels for several years. In her next principalship, McConnaha’s leadership turned around a school that had been one of the lowest-performing in the district when she arrived. Three years later, the school was named a Blue Ribbon School. “The award meant so much because I knew how hard the staff, parents, and students worked to raise attendance, morale, and student achievement,” says McConnaha. “I felt this award represented a true team approach to doing whatever it takes to help every single child in that school.” McConnaha has been at her current school for only a year, but she continues to strive to impact children’s lives in a positive way. She makes a priority of establishing relationships with all children in the school. She makes herself highly visible by frequenting classrooms, the lunchroom, hallways, and children’s outdoor recess areas. “I want them to each value the gift of education,” she says. “It is my job to instill that value in them through my interactions, modeling, and the relationships I build with them.” She has a B.S. from the University of Iowa and an M.S. from Western Illinois University.


Jody A. Baker
Meadowlark Elementary School, Andover Public Schools, Unified School District No. 385
Andover, Kansas

Within a two-year span, Jody Baker oversaw the opening of a new school and renovations to another school, successfully maintaining a positive school climate and academic achievement during these events. Baker assumed the principalship of Meadowlark Elementary School in 2000. During the past five years under her leadership, the suburban school has earned State Standard of Excellence awards based on student performance on all state-mandated academic assessments. The school also recently ranked third in its metropolitan area for its scores on the statewide tests. Meadowlark Elementary currently enrolls 359 students in kindergarten through grade 5. “Shared leadership is the guiding principle I use when identifying problems, seeking solutions, and taking action,” says Baker. She meets twice a month to collaborate with a Building Leadership Team that includes teacher representatives from all grade levels and from areas such as music, art, and special education. Baker and the Building Leadership Team review and analyze data on student learning to identify strengths and weaknesses in the school’s instructional programs and strategies. Examples of parent and community support for Baker’s school include the nearly $8,000 raised by the parent-teacher organization during the past year to support a teacher grant program that underwrites instructional and classroom resources. Baker earned her B.A. from Bethany College in Kansas and her M.A. from Wichita State University in Kansas.


Judith S. Spellacy
Toliver Elementary School, Danville Independent Schools
Danville, Kentucky

“The way we do business at Toliver—continually assessing, tailoring instruction to meet the needs of each child, setting goals, and intentionally involving students in this process—is simply best practice,” says Judith Spellacy. “And our results show that it works.” Spellacy became principal of Toliver Elementary 11 years ago, when students had fallen behind academically: “Scores on state assessments were consistently in the 50s (on a scale from zero to 140), and the staff simply didn’t believe the students could do any better,” Spellacy says. To convince her staff that all students can learn, she located similar schools in the state of Kentucky that were performing well and used them as models. Despite Toliver Elementary’s rising poverty rate, students’ achievement levels have risen significantly. Today the elementary school ranks among the top ten in its state. The small-town school currently serves 295 kindergarten through fifth-grade students. Spellacy considers one of her top accomplishments as principal to be building a team of staff members who work together effectively to support student learning. Spellacy also takes pride in her school’s positive impact on other schools in her district and state. The site receives frequent visits from observers, and the staff has partnered with a high school to share successful instructional strategies. Spellacy received a B.S. and a master’s degree from West Virginia University.


Mary E. Donatto
East Elementary School, Saint Landry Parish School District
Eunice, Louisiana

Mary Donatto’s high-poverty school has an administrative staff of one—the principal. Without an assistant principal, guidance counselor, or librarian on site, Donatto has found “it is imperative that I collaboratively delegate (and check) some of my administrative responsibilities so that I can maintain my instructional focus,” she says. Donatto puts paraprofessionals in charge of such activities as student-of-the-month and other awards. She oversees and collaborates with her school’s reading coach, instructional specialist, and teachers as they meet monthly for three-hour-long grade-level meetings that concentrate on academics. Donatto became principal of East Elementary in 1999. Despite the fact that 80 percent of the rural school’s 363 students live in poverty, the school has repeatedly received recognition for academic excellence during the past decade. When Donatto started her principalship, the school had a performance rating of 84.5; that score has risen as high as 108.6 during the 11 test cycles of Donatto’s leadership of the site. One of Donatto’s related accomplishments is creating a positive social environment at the school that supports student learning. “Staff members and students are courteous and caring in their interactions with each other,” she says. Donatto previously served as an instructional specialist and a teacher at East Elementary. She holds a B.A. from the University of Southwestern Louisiana and M.Ed. degrees from both Louisiana State University and Southern University in Louisiana.


Linda L. Bleile
Wiscasset Middle School, Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit No. 12
Wiscasset, Maine

Linda Bleile was a teacher for nearly 30 years at Wiscasset Middle School before becoming the principal in 2002. Her effective partnership with teachers has enabled her to lead the school to become more open and inviting to the community. Situated in a small town, Wiscasset Middle School currently serves 214 students in grades five through eight. As principal, Bleile makes teachers feel valued and trusted by “considering their input and professional opinions, addressing them as colleagues, honoring their autonomy in their areas of expertise, and yet holding them to the same high standards that I hold for myself,” she says. To address classroom mold problems, Bleile reached out to town officials and senior citizen residents, among others. Her advocacy efforts promoting a safe, healthy school environment led to a successful renovation of the seven largest classrooms. Bleile also led a transformation in the way her middle school delivers instruction in order to raise student achievement levels. She promoted a team approach to school improvement, participating in research and professional development efforts. The grant application she coauthored resulted in a comprehensive school reform grant that funded new literacy and learning initiatives at the site. Significant increases in students’ performance in math, reading, and science followed. Bleile holds a B.A. from the University of Maine and an M.Ed. from the University of Southern Maine.

Carol A. Hathorne
Hope Elementary School, Union No. 69, Hope School District
Hope, Maine

In 20 years as a principal, Carol Hathorne has headed two elementary schools and a middle school. She arrived at Hope Elementary School in 2000. Her top accomplishments at the rural school include her promotion of the use of data to improve student learning. “By using our time and resources wisely, we’ve developed a system of collecting meaningful data on all students regularly,” she says. “Staff members have become knowledgeable in analyzing this information and identifying needs early in a child’s educational career.” Hathorne also has focused on creating opportunities for teachers to exercise leadership in the school and increasing recognition for teachers’ efforts to make the school work well. The school has team leaders who change every two years, which provides every staff member with opportunities to function in a management capacity. The school also has numerous staff-led committees, including a professional development committee that designs training days. Hathorne has built community connections with her school through such efforts as holding monthly meetings with senior citizens and working with local law enforcers and emergency responders to support the school’s safety team. Hope Elementary has a current enrollment of 161 students in kindergarten through grade 8. Hathorne has a B.S. from the University of Southern Maine and an M.Ed. from the University of Maine.


Robert L. Wagner
Solley Elementary School, Anne Arundel County Public Schools
Glen Burnie, Maryland

A decrease in math test scores led Robert Wagner and his staff to forge a plan to future success. “Sharing the student data and brainstorming possible causes of the problem served as the impetus in developing a school improvement plan that made math achievement a major focus,” says Wagner. He formed a team of teachers that meets monthly to focus on math achievement, secured funding for professional book studies, and obtained classroom coverage to allow math team members to visit other schools to observe effective math teachers. The team shares learning from the book studies and school visits and develops specific lessons based on student data analysis. Wagner has been principal of Solley Elementary School for six years. The suburban school today has an enrollment of 675 pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students. After receiving 30 hours of training to become a trainer last year, Wagner worked with three teachers at his school to provide professional development to more than 50 staff members on the concept of thinking maps, a major initiative of his school district and a goal of his school’s improvement plan. A principal for 20 years, Wagner has held weekly honorary lunches with small groups of students for the past 19 years to recognize student efforts and achievement. He received his B.S. from the University of Maryland and his M.Ed. from Loyola College in Maryland.


Jillian C. Nesgos
Boston Renaissance Charter Public School
Hyde Park, Massachusetts

Jillian Nesgos has been an agent of change as lead principal of Boston Renaissance Charter Public School since 2006. To address low student achievement results, she created a rigorous academic model that has accelerated the literacy and math learning of students at risk of school failure. Nesgos also raised the bar at her school by fostering a professional learning community among the staff. This community “expects teachers to be leaders in education, engaging in educational research, high-quality and differentiated professional development, and collaborative team mentoring,” she says. “This high standard for teacher performance directly correlates to improved student outcomes.” Nesgos has used partnerships to bridge the divide between traditional and charter public schools to help educators at different schools share best practices that lead to excellence in education. She also has established community partnerships with vision, dental, and mental health agencies, resulting in the delivery of health services on the school site. With a largely poor student population, the urban school last year provided 106 pairs of eyeglasses for its students. Nesgos previously served her school in positions as primary-level principal, instructional coach, and lead teacher. Her school enrolls 1,099 first- through third-grade children. Nesgos has a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, an M.Ed. from Lesley University in Massachusetts, and is currently working on her Ed.D. from the University of Massachusetts at Boston.


Darren V. Petschar
Woodland Elementary School, Brietung Township School District
Kingsford, Michigan

“When students come back to me after being out of the elementary school and thank me for caring about them, I feel that I’ve accomplished my mission in education,” says Darren Petschar. In nearly 20 years as a principal, Petschar has headed two elementary schools. He considers one of his greatest accomplishments as a principal to be “touching the lives of children in a positive way.” He strives to help students look at and learn from the decisions they’ve made and the good or bad consequences of those decisions. Petschar has been principal of Woodland Elementary School for 14 years. At the rural school, which serves 740 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade, he has created a special education program that serves children in the general education setting. Teachers and parents work as a team to ensure the success of students with special needs. Petschar also has fostered data-driven decision making about instruction at Woodland Elementary School. Staff members today use student data to make decisions about teaching and discipline in order to address children’s individual challenges. Petschar welcomes and shows appreciation to parents and community members who come to his school to make presentations, read with students, help with enrichment activities, and share their expertise on school committees. He holds a B.S. and an M.A. from Northern Michigan University.


Joan Steffes-Franks
Armatage Montessori School, Minneapolis Public Schools
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Joan Franks led her school to double its enrollment in less than a year when faced with a challenge two years ago. The school board had voted to close the community program, removing half the students of the Armatage Community and Montessori School, to accommodate the growing number of families requesting student placements in the Montessori program on site. The school district gave Franks and her staff five years to build the Montessori program to the increased capacity. But the marketing and recruiting strategies they employed enabled the school to meet the goal four years early. Franks has been principal of Armatage Montessori School since 1998. The urban school today serves 552 prekindergarten through fifth-grade students. Collaborating with parents, staff, and community members, Franks has focused the school on meeting its student achievement goals. In a recent school year, it was one of only five schools in its district that achieved Adequate Yearly Progress in all three academic areas tested. Beyond her school, Franks has served on numerous district- and state-level committees alongside high-level education leaders during the past 30 years. “I’ve been fortunate to be able to help influence decisions impacting our schools while concurrently building bridges through negotiations, labor relations, and budgeting forecasts,” she says. She earned a B.S. at Miami University in Ohio and an M.S. from Minnesota State University.



Christopher A. Daniels
Chouteau Elementary School, North Kansas City School District
Kansas City, Missouri

Demonstrating his accessibility to students and teachers, Christopher Daniels strives to visit every classroom in his school at least twice a day. For the past eight years, Daniels has headed a school community that primarily includes low-income families. Among his top accomplishments, he has created an inviting school climate for families of diverse ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds. “Our staff has worked diligently to educate each other on becoming culturally responsive,” says Daniels. He considers his students’ parents to be “integral members of a team that requires each member to chart growth, own the successes, and address any failures of all students at Chouteau Elementary School.” The suburban school currently serves 380 Pre-K-5 students. Daniels centers the school culture on high expectations and goal setting for students, who become partners in their education as they master necessary skills. During the past five years, Daniels and his staff have sustained significant gains in student achievement. They accomplished this by analyzing and using data on student learning and teacher effectiveness in order to provide individual instruction and “a pyramid of interventions” daily to the high-need student population. He received a B.A. from Park College in Missouri, an M.S. from the University of Central Missouri, and an Ed.D. from Nova Southeastern University in Florida.


Darren G. Schlepp
Edgerton School, Kalispell Public Schools
Kalispell, Montana

Five years ago, Darren Schlepp’s school became the first in the state of Montana to implement a bullying prevention program that has helped the site earn national recognition. Schlepp credits staff and community support and training efforts for the success of this initiative, which has helped ensure a school environment conducive to student well-being and learning. Schlepp also has led his school to receive honors as one of 25 in the nation that received the 2011 SMARTboard Showcase Elite School Award. “I’m very proud of our technology integration,” he says, noting that advanced technology is part of the daily instruction for students. In addition, Schlepp’s school serves as a model site in western Montana for the protocols, procedures, and research-based practices it has established in developing a tiered model of instructional interventions. This approach meets the needs of all students, from those who are at risk of failure or struggling to learn to those who excel and demonstrate strong achievement. Schlepp assumed the principalship of Edgerton School in 2001. The small-town school currently enrolls 550 students from preschool to fifth grade. Schlepp involves teachers, staff members, and parents in school decision making to promote student achievement. He has formed several staff teams that provide leadership and collaboration opportunities. He received a B.S. from Eastern Montana College and an M.S. from the University of Montana.


Barry P. McFarland
J. Sterling Morton Elementary School, Lexington Public Schools
Lexington, Nebraska

Barry McFarland has greatly boosted student test scores and expectations at his small-town school, which serves 454 K-5 students. During the past six years, he has helped the staff of Morton Elementary move from an approach to instructional decision making  based on the curriculum to one focused on students needs. To combat a 48% proficiency rate on a statewide writing assessment when he arrived at the school, McFarland fostered a new vision, found new strategies for improving student learning, and brought in national experts to work with his staff. These efforts paid off, as the school has averaged 90% proficiency on its state’s writing test over the past three years. “We’ve been able to move from a perception that ‘you can’t expect these children to learn due to language, poverty, parents who don’t support school, etc.,’” says McFarland. The school now reflects the “tremendous pride” of students, teachers, parents, and community members alike in what students are accomplishing, he says. With McFarland’s leadership, his school has resurrected a formerly inactive parent-teacher organization, raising the participation rate at meetings to an average of 75 parents. McFarland also has increased evening school activities that bring families and teachers together, increasing parents’ sense of being school partners. He holds a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska.


Traci M. Davis
William E. Snyder Empowerment Elementary School, Clark County School District
Las Vegas, Nevada

The year before Traci Davis became principal of her school, only 31 percent of the students scored at proficient levels in English/language arts (ELA), and 54 percent did so in math. Five years later, with her leadership, 58 percent were proficient in ELA, and 78 percent were proficient in math. The proportion of students proficient in writing also more than doubled during the first four years of Davis’s tenure. The site continues to make gains that are closing achievement gaps among different groups of students. “My first task as principal was to overhaul the system in regard to how we made decisions,” says Davis. “This resulted in the creation of a school governance structure that hears and values every voice.” Davis also oversaw the transition of her school’s program for students with special needs, implementing co-teaching and other practices that enable all children to learn in general education settings. The school has become a model in its district for its inclusive practices. It also has received a statewide award for its commitment to students with disabilities. Davis has been principal of Snyder Elementary since 2005. Her school has a current student population of 853 in prekindergarten through the fifth grade. Davis holds a B.Ed. from the University of Las Vegas and an M.Ed. from Lesley College in Massachusetts.

New Hampshire

Kyle Marie Langille
Bicentennial Elementary School, Nashua School District
Amherst, New Hampshire

Kyle Langille’s principalship has led to steady increases in her school’s academic proficiency rates. Four years after Langille became head of Bicentennial Elementary in 2005, the proficiency rate in reading improved from 82 percent to 91 percent and in math from 86 percent to 91 percent. All student subgroups showed improvements. Students’ high performance for five consecutive years earned the school a 2011 Blue Ribbon School award nomination by New Hampshire’s state education department. For the past four years, Langille’s school has benefited from a partnership that has enabled it to align its science curriculum to state standards, deliver staff training focused on innovative teaching strategies and best practices, and design and build a certified outdoor classroom featuring natural wildlife. As part of the initiative, students audited the school’s energy consumption and expanded recycling. Such efforts resulted in the school’s 2010 nomination for a national prize. It also was a 2009 New Hampshire Elementary School of the Year finalist. The school received this recognition “based on our curriculum work in science, commitment to mentoring student teachers, enrichment programs, and attention to monitoring and supporting individual student performance,” says Langille. Her suburban school has a current enrollment of 660 prekindergarten through fifth-grade students. Langille completed a B.S. from the University of New Hampshire and an M.Ed. from River College in New Hampshire.

New Jersey

Tracey D. Severns
Mount Olive Middle School, Mount Olive Township School District
Budd Lake, New Jersey

In six years as principal of Mount Olive Middle School, Tracey Severns has transformed “a collection of teachers into a community of learners.” The transformation followed the introduction of the protocols and practices of professional learning communities. “Although we’ve had teams for many years, on an operational level teachers worked as independent contractors engaged in private practice,” Severns explains. “Now teachers work together to agree on common outcomes, measured by common assessments, that are judged by common standards.” As a result, the site has exceeded a district six-year goal in just one year. Severns spearheaded a transition in her school’s culture by raising expectations for high achievement by all students. She challenged the belief that teachers were only responsible for teaching, fostering the belief that they share a responsibility for student learning. She raised the benchmark for passing grades from 65 to 70 and expanded support services for struggling students. Her school’s positive environment today is buoyed by the faculty’s spirit of camaraderie. The suburban school serves 1,138 sixth- through eighth-grade students. Severns has headed two middle schools as a principal for over a decade; in addition, she also has served as a superintendent. She holds a B.S. from the State of New York College of Oneonta, an M.A. from Montclair State College in New Jersey, and an Ed.D. from Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

New Mexico

Mark A. Lovas
Hagerman Elementary School, Hagerman Municipal Schools
Hagerman, New Mexico

Before Mark Lovas became principal of Hagerman Elementary in 1999, the rural school’s annual staff turnover rate was above 50 percent. Today the school experiences little or no staff turnover each year. By building a safe, stable work environment, Lovas has enabled Hagerman Elementary to make continuous improvements to the curriculum and daily operations of the school. Lovas has encouraged teachers to take the lead in using research-based instructional methods. During his tenure, the school has maintained regular improvements in student achievement. “We work as a team and make adjustments to our schedules, teaching techniques, data collection methodologies, and overall school operations based on the feedback from the prior year’s experiences,” says Lovas. “We continually make changes in our teaching of individual students based on student data and assessment trends.” Lovas also has made the school an inviting place for students’ families. “Our parents now feel comfortable coming into my office at any time to discuss a problem, concern, or idea that could help our school continue to improve,” he says. Lovas says support from his superintendent and school board allowed him to provide Hagerman Elementary’s students and staff with excellent instructional resources, technology, professional training, and facilities. The school has 210 students in prekindergarten through the fifth grade. Lovas received a B.S. and an M.S. from the University of the Southwest in New Mexico.

New York

Kevin F. Hulbert
Keeseville Elementary School, AuSable Valley Central School District
Keeseville, New York

Kevin Hulbert has worked to create a “buzz about college” among all the children served by his rural elementary school. The efforts of Hulbert, school staff members, and upper-grades students to develop programs that educate all 385 students in kindergarten through the sixth grade about college opportunities in their futures led to Keeseville Elementary’s School of Distinction award from an organization that promotes college awareness. Hulbert has been principal of Keeseville Elementary for seven years. Under his leadership, the school has become a local role model for its character education program. “Collectively, the staff has worked diligently to educate and consistently apply the principles behind Positive Behavioral Incentives and Supports for the students,” says Hulbert. Using an intervention model for student behavior and academic support has resulted in improvements in both areas, he says. Hulbert also has fostered student leadership opportunities through service projects. Student groups have led schoolwide activities such as a teddy bear collection drive for an area hospital and food drives that support local pantries. They’ve also organized a butterfly memorial garden and prepared letters to help the Make a Wish Foundation. In addition, classes and grade levels have given singing performances to entertain local nursing home residents and daycare center audiences. Hulbert earned a B.S. and an M.S. at Plattsburgh State University in New York.

James Mulé (Representing Private Schools)
St. Amelia School, Catholic Diocese of Buffalo
National Catholic Educational Association
Tonawanda, New York

Within five years of Jim Mulé’s start as principal of St. Amelia School, the site was earning recognition at the state and national levels. Honors received include designation as a National School of Excellence, a New York State School of Excellence, and a National School of Character. In 1995 Mulé became the first lay principal of the suburban school. Under his leadership, it has grown to a current enrollment of about 565 prekindergarten through eighth-grade students—the highest number in its history since 1968. He made emphasizing the school’s religious identity a top priority from his first day as principal. The success of this effort shows in classrooms designated by their patron saints, with each class learning about and celebrating the feast of its saint; the daily presence of priests in the school; a high percentage of student attendance at weekend Masses; and an active spirituality committee in St. Amelia’s Home School Association. “A strong Catholic identity is evident in many facets of school life,” says Mulé. Early on, he also introduced a strategic plan that has provided a clear vision for the school’s future. The school board, faculty, and Home School Association regularly review the plan, and committees that include parents, teachers, parishioners, and community members carry out its various parts. Mulé earned a B.S., a master’s of science and education, and permanent certification as a school administrator supervisor from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

North Carolina

Lisa D. Tart
Grantham School, Wayne County Public Schools
Goldsboro, North Carolina

Lisa Tart has earned several school leadership honors in recent years. Last year Tart received recognition as the North Carolina Southeast Principal of the Year. The previous year, she was Principal of the Year for her school district. Tart has served as principal of Grantham School since 2006. The rural elementary school, which currently enrolls 907 students, has a School Improvement Team that includes teachers and other staff members as well as parent and student representatives. The team completes regular reports, school effectiveness analyses, and plans during the summer to maintain a focus on current practices during the school year. Tart closely monitors teaching and learning at her school, recording up to 900 formal walkthroughs of classrooms annually. She also conducts frequent informal classroom observations. Last year Tart launched an initiative in which she identifies model classrooms in her school based on student achievement improvements. Other teachers rotate as observers in the model classrooms. “It has been very exciting to observe as these teachers have worked diligently to deeply reflect and continually improve upon classroom practices that positively impact individual student outcomes in their classroom as well as students in other classrooms,” says Tart. Beyond her school, Tart served for six years on a committee to advance education in North Carolina. She has a B.A. and an M.A. from East Carolina University in North Carolina.

North Dakota

Loren R. Kersting
South Elementary School, West Fargo Public Schools
West Fargo, North Dakota

“We can and must provide children with the tools to be successful learners who become contributing members of our society,” says Loren Kersting. As principal of South Elementary School for nearly 20 years, Kersting’s top accomplishments include leading changes that have improved student learning. Kersting has introduced elementary-level scheduling of longer blocks of instruction and incorporated professional learning communities among teachers. Kersting also takes pride in having overseen the placement of students in groupings based on ability for math and reading learning: “If our children are learning at their level, we can accomplish the goal of ensuring that all children can learn and reach their potential.” Kersting has promoted the adoption of this strategy of grouping students by ability levels for reading and math to the entire South Elementary staff and shared the school’s success with the practice with other principals. The changes that Kersting spearheaded led the school to make Adequate Yearly Progress after a previous failure. With nearly three decades of experience as a school administrator, Kersting served for six years as an assistant middle school principal and for five years as an elementary principal in Fargo-area Catholic schools. South Elementary currently counts 504 students in grades one through five. Kersting has a B.Ed. from Moorhead State University in Minnesota and an M.Ed. from Tri-College University in Minnesota.


Teresa A. Anderson
Nicklin Learning Center, Piqua City Schools
Piqua, Ohio

“I’m a firm believer that if you have high expectations, people will live up to them,” says Teresa Anderson. “I have very high expectations for myself, my staff, my students, and parents. Our building goals and performance expectations are all set at 85 percent or higher, with the expectation that 100 percent of our students will reach that level of mastery.” Anderson has led the Nicklin Learning Center since 1998. She previously served as a teacher at the small-town school for six years. During the past decade, Anderson has overseen two major transitions within her school’s 1954-era facility. First, the district reorganized the previous elementary site to become an early childhood center serving only kindergarteners and preschool children, including those with special needs. Last year, increased enrollment in kindergarten classes led the district to move preschool students to a different location. The school now serves 300 kindergarteners in full-day and half-day classes. Anderson has met the challenge of involving families despite the annual changing of the all-kindergarten population. Her school has engaged more than 75 volunteers at yearly Thanksgiving feasts, counted as many as 175 families participating at schoolwide literacy nights, and attracted up to 800 people at student musical performances. Anderson holds a B.A. from Wittenberg University in Ohio and an M.S. from the University of Dayton in Ohio.

Heidi S. Kegley
Willis Intermediate School, Delaware City Schools
Delaware City, Ohio

With Heidi Kegley’s guidance as a school administrator, students at her school have consistently improved their academic performance on statewide standardized tests. “Through the work of the staff and students, our building has improved its percentage of indicators met for the past seven years, from 33.3 percent of indicators met in 2003-2004 to 100 percent of indicators met in 2009-2010,” says Kegley. This accomplishment led the school to receive an excellent rating from the state of Ohio. Kegley became principal of Willis Intermediate School in 2007. Today she oversees 815 fifth and sixth graders at the site. Before assuming the principalship, Kegley spent four years as the assistant principal of her school. A highlight of Kegley’s tenure has been developing a mentoring program for students supported by a Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization and a local university. More than 50 mentors provide students with one-on-one help in the school setting. Working with building administrators, teachers, and guidance counselors from five elementary schools that feed into her school, Kegley created a plan to help rising intermediate students make the transition. Kegley’s school provides tours and meetings for rising fourth-grade student groups and their parents. It also hosts an orientation where students meet their teachers and gain familiarity with their daily schedules. Kegley completed her B.S. and her M.Ed. at the University of Dayton in Ohio.

Yvonne R. Schwab (Representing Private Schools)
St. James the Less Catholic School, Diocese of Columbus, National Catholic Educational Association
Columbus, Ohio

During the past six years, the Latino population of Yvonne Schwab’s school has grown from two to 201 students. This growth spurred intensive training for the faculty and support staff in Spanish culture and language. “Our new understanding enabled us to assist the high school in developing its own English as a Second Language program and to facilitate a smooth transition for our students,” says Schwab. Despite a large number of students with foreign language backgrounds and a 75 percent poverty rate in the student body, Schwab’s school has demonstrated yearly progress on standardized tests at every grade level. “We provide quality education for marginalized children through solid educational techniques and a faith-filled environment,” says Schwab. With her leadership, students develop and lead service learning opportunities. The school embeds this learning in the curriculum and relies on solid research. For example, as students study issues such as recent natural disasters, environmental problems, aging, disease, and poverty, they make real-world connections and develop critical thinking skills. This has “helped our students become committed citizens who understand the Catholic call to service,” says Schwab. She has headed St. James the Less Catholic School since 2004. The urban school now has 451 students in kindergarten through the eighth grade. Schwab earned a B.A. and an M.A. from Northern Kentucky University.


Meggan L. Wilson
Mustang Creek Elementary School, Mustang Public Schools
Mustang, Oklahoma

Integrity. Honor. Punctuality. Effort. Respect. Positive Attitude. These are some of the core values that Meggan Wilson and her staff have agreed will guide all their interactions with their school’s students and parents. Wilson she says she strives to model each of them every day. Cultivating a positive schoolwide climate has been high among Wilson’s priorities—and her accomplishments—at her suburban school. She credits the integration of a research-based program that promotes academic excellence and character education. She also supports staff morale by recognizing individual accomplishments and efforts frequently, sharing decision-making opportunities, and building strong relationships. The high-performing professional learning communities that Wilson has developed and implemented with her staff heighten accountability for student success, advance staff members’ professional development, and promote analysis of student achievement data and use of common academic assessments across classrooms at each grade level. According to Wilson, these communities have “greatly enhanced the collaborative culture of our building and shifted the overall focus from teaching to student learning.” As part of Wilson’s focus on high academic achievement by all students, her school requires 400 minutes of reading and math instruction each week. She has headed Mustang Creek Elementary since 2006. The site currently serves 662 K-2 students. Wilson earned her B.S. at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma and her M.Ed. from the University of Central Oklahoma.


Michael A. Donnelly
Centennial Elementary School, Springfield Public Schools
Springfield, Oregon

The urban school that Mike Donnelly has led since 2002 has earned several prestigious honors in recent years. Centennial Elementary received a Champion of Education Award in 2009 from the area chambers of commerce. The school received a Champion School Award from the Oregon Department of Education in 2008 for its student performance on state assessments that year, which demonstrated significant progress toward closing achievement gaps among different student groups. In seven of the past nine school years, Centennial Elementary also has gained recognition as a Strong/Outstanding School by the Oregon Department of Education. The school currently serves 400 students in kindergarten through the fifth grade, with three-quarters from low-income households. “I’ve worked to involve parents and community members in supporting student achievement by developing structures that provide parents access to understand our achievement data and also encourage their participation in affirming our school academic goals and strategies to attain those goals,” says Donnelly. To increase parent involvement in raising student achievement, the school shares information on assessment results during monthly parent-teacher association meetings and coffee sessions with Donnelly. Community volunteers support learning by reading with individual students each week at the school. In two decades as a principal, Donnelly has led four schools. He completed his B.S. at State University of New York at New Paltz and his M.Ed. at the University of Oregon.


Randy A. Peters
Orange Street Elementary School, Berwick Area School District
Berwick, Pennsylvania

Improving the academic performance of Orange Street Elementary School was Randy Peters’s top priority when he became principal in 2005. Consistently conveying a message that all students can learn, he soon established a culture in which teachers expect all children to succeed. “The school faculty embraced both the message and the challenge,” says Peters. “The results are evident.” Those results include rising scores on academic tests, with student proficiency rates improving under Peters’ leadership from 52 percent to 74 percent in reading, and from 77 percent to 90 percent in math. Another key accomplishment of Peters’ tenure has been improving the school environment. In the first year of his principalship, 27 students received out-of-school suspensions for misbehavior. Peters launched a series of programs that recognize and reward students for positive behavior and help them take responsibility for improving the school. With the programs in place, out-of-school suspensions have decreased annually, down to zero in the past year. To create a sense of school pride, Peters formed a Principal’s Advisory Committee to develop a mission statement that provides a focus for teachers, students, and other community members of Orange Street Elementary School. The small-town school today serves 401 students in kindergarten through the fifth grade. Peters has a B.S. from Bloomsburg State College in Pennsylvania and an M.Ed. from Temple University in Pennsylvania.

Rhode Island

Debra J. Zepp
Matunuck Elementary School, South Kingstown Schools
Wakefield, Rhode Island

Debra Zepp has blazed trails by building new programs for her school and district since becoming principal of Matunuck Elementary in 2003. The alternative learning program she developed offers support for high-risk students to succeed in educational settings with other students. The program also uses community resources to assist student families. For the initiative, Zepp ensured that her staff received training to understand and work well with students with autism and emotional disabilities. Zepp also helped develop a community learning program that’s available in four elementary schools in her district. For 40 minutes weekly, presenters teach students about community service, careers, and college. During the presentations, teachers meet for common planning time. Although students are free to go home rather than attend the presentations, 95 percent have stayed. The community-supported program is a source of pride for Zepp: “Matunuck School shares a strong relationship with parents and community members because we value their investment in our school,” she says. Under Zepp’s guidance, her school implemented an intervention model through which teachers develop plans to help struggling learners and monitor their academic progress. School leaders have adopted the model districtwide. Zepp’s school also provides interventions to encourage positive student behavior. The rural school currently serves 258 children in kindergarten through the fourth grade. Zepp has a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Rhode Island.

South Carolina

Cynthia Jarrard Pridgen
Woodland Heights Elementary School, Spartanburg School District No. 6
Spartanburg, South Carolina

“An effective principal cannot simply man the ship and manage but rather must chart a course leading with a clear vision and a passion,” says Cynthia Pridgen. She adds that her role includes “providing an innovative curriculum, creating a safe harbor for learning, promoting a positive climate, setting high expectations, and celebrating learning.” As principal, Pridgen has led Woodland Heights Elementary to receive national and state recognition for excellence since 2003. The suburban school, with a current enrollment of 441 students in prekindergarten through the fifth grade, received two top state honors last year. For achieving at levels that rank it among the top two elementary schools in its state, Woodland Heights Elementary received a Carolina First Palmetto’s Finest award. For closing achievement gaps among students of different backgrounds and performing at the highest levels of 514 Title I schools in its state, Pridgen’s school won a South Carolina Distinguished Title I School award. The site also earned national acclaim as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education in 2001, when Pridgen was assistant principal. The school’s “wall of fame” features more than 150 newspaper articles about its achievements, including photos of students with national celebrities. Pridgen holds a B.S. and an M.Ed. from Valdosta University in Georgia and an Ed.D. from South Carolina State University.

South Dakota

Faith M. Stratton
Chester Area School, Chester Area School District
Chester, South Dakota

“It is of utmost importance to me to be able to meet the needs of all students,” says Faith Stratton, “especially the ones who were not born into a ‘lucky’ family situation.” Stratton has met wide-ranging student needs using more than $2 million in grants that she helped win for her rural school. School improvement efforts made possible from the extra funding include after-school programming, middle-grades reforms, and an initiative to provide students with laptops. Students also have benefited from grant-funded computer-based instructional programs and wellness initiatives, and teachers have appreciated grant funding for extra training and travel to professional conferences. As elementary principal of Chester Area School since 1997, Stratton oversees prekindergarten through sixth-grade students in a population of 197 students through the eighth grade. Early in her tenure, she established an all-day kindergarten program. In recent years, she launched a preschool and a program for five-year-olds who are not quite ready for kindergarten. The program already has a waiting list. To emphasize wellness for both students and community members, Stratton promotes wide use of her school’s exercise equipment, opening the school at 5:30 a.m. for this purpose. To make school lunches more nutritious, she used a grant to hire a dietician. She holds a B.S. from Dakota State University in South Dakota and an M.Ed. from South Dakota State University at Brookings.


Julie E. Thompson
Carter Elementary School, Knox County School District
Strawberry Plains, Tennessee

Two years in a row, Julie Thompson’s school has received recognition from the Education Consumers Foundation for the significant gains it has made on statewide academic assessments. The organization ranked the school in the top 1 percent of elementary schools in the state of Tennessee. For two years, Thompson’s school also has been the only elementary school in Tennessee selected by the National Staff Development Council to join its Learning School Alliance. Membership in the alliance provides the school with training for all teachers to improve their effectiveness in advancing student learning. Thompson became principal of Carter Elementary in 2003. The rural school currently serves 522 students in kindergarten through the fifth grade. Six years ago, she won a grant that has provided funding to operate extensive after-school programming at Carter Elementary. Four days a week, the program provides students with tutoring, library access, art and music classes, computer and Scrabble game clubs, and a student health initiative. “I feel this program has helped us make significant gains in achievement over the last several years,” says Thompson. Over the past decade, Thompson has headed two elementary schools. She also has been highly active in professional associations at the local and state levels, holding several leadership posts in recent years. She earned a B.S. and an M.S. at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.


Marlene F. Lindsay
Galatas Elementary School, Conroe Independent School District
The Woodlands, Texas

The school that Marlene Lindsay has headed for the past 15 years has received a prestigious state award five times under her leadership. Galatas Elementary School earned the Texas Business and Education Coalition Honor Roll Award after submitting three years of results data. The results demonstrated that a high percentage of students met state academic standards, performing at a high level in comparison to schools serving populations of similar socioeconomic levels. The distinction has put the school in the top 4 percent of schools in its state. Each year the school uses an organizational health inventory to measure the quality of its climate based on ten factors that impact student performance. The recent year’s scores, ranging from 97 percent to 99 percent, indicate a positive, productive work environment. “Our environment is one of collaboration, high morale, and goal focus,” says Lindsay. In 28 years as a principal, she has led two elementary schools. “One of the rewards of holding a leadership position is watching employees grow as professionals,” she says. “I have had the joy of experiencing the promotion of five of my assistant principals to leadership positions as elementary school principals.” Her suburban school has a current enrollment of 741 students in kindergarten through the fourth grade. She earned a B.S. and an M.S. at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Dawn M. Smith
Daniel Intermediate School, Duncanville Independent School District
Duncanville, Texas

Dawn Smith has helped turn around four struggling schools as a principal for 17 years. In each case, she has hired high-quality staff members and raised the academic achievement levels of all categories of students within one year. For the past two years, Smith has served as principal of Daniel Intermediate School, a suburban school of 723 fifth and sixth graders. She previously headed another intermediate school for nearly a decade. She also has led a middle school and an elementary school. “Each of these campuses earned a rating of ‘exemplary’ or ‘recognize’ status from the state of Texas in the first year under my leadership,” Smith says. Among key accomplishments of her career, she initiated her district’s first curriculum design panel comprised of students, parents, school staff members, and community members. The panel’s conversations, which include critiques of educational programs, inform all participants and strengthen relations between the staff of Smith’s school and students’ families. Another highlight of Smith’s career has been her success in leading lasting school improvements. “I’ve been able to transform what some may have called a very chaotic and undisciplined campus into a school that offers unique and varied programs aligned to campus and state data,” she says. She completed a B.A. at Central Washington University and an M.A. at Heritage College in Washington.


Kathleen S. Bagley
Snow Horse Elementary School, Davis School District
Kaysville, Utah

“I had the privilege of dreaming a school into existence,” says Kathleen Bagley. “Years of imagining the perfect school gave me a passion to create a school that would be a positive place to learn and work.” After becoming principal of Snow Horse Elementary in 2007, Bagley hired staff members who have helped her bring to life the school’s vision of “challenging, safe, and joyful learning.” The small-town school today serves 750 students in kindergarten through the sixth grade. While the school was under construction, Bagley requested that her site serve students with severe academic and behavioral disabilities, believing that such placements benefit all children and make for a “kinder, gentler school.” The school today has a functional skills class and three learning centers for children with autism and other special needs, blending services to meet individual student challenges. Three years ago, Bagley’s school won a grant to launch a unique arts program. Today all students in the school receive dance instruction integrated across the curriculum. Students “dance adjectives and fractions” as well as performing the life cycle of a butterfly, for example. In nine years as a principal, Bagley has headed two elementary schools. She received a B.S. from Utah State University, an M.S. from Southern Illinois University, and an M.Ed. from Brigham Young University in Utah.


Thomas J. Bochanski
Hiawatha Elementary School, Essex Junction School District
Essex Junction, Vermont

Reflecting on his principalship, Thomas Bochanski most values the opportunity he has had to foster a professional learning community within his school that provides meaningful support to all students. “This effort includes countless hours of intensive, collaborative problem solving and consensus building to structure universal classrooms throughout our school that support all of the diverse learners in our care,” he says. Bochanski has been principal of Hiawatha Elementary School for 12 years. The suburban school today enrolls 247 prekindergarten through third-grade students. Bochanski has overseen a narrowing of achievement gaps between students living in poverty and their peers at his school. “We have accomplished this through a measured and reflective approach in changing our attitudes, instruction, and classroom/school model design,” says Bochanski. During his tenure at Hiawatha Elementary, he also has created a model for providing student support that uses specialists based at each grade level. The model encourages the inclusion of students with special needs, including physical disabilities as well as cognitive and emotional needs, alongside other students in general education classrooms. Staff members work with the children and their parents as partners to help all students meet the district’s learning and behavioral standards. Bochanski holds a B.A. from La Salle College in Pennsylvania, a B.S. from the University of Wyoming, and an M.Ed. from the University of Vermont.


Linda C. Wood
Harrowgate Elementary School, Chesterfield County Public Schools
Chester, Virginia

Sustained improvements in student achievement across all academic areas have been the highlights of Linda Wood’s leadership of Harrowgate Elementary since 2004. The improvements have helped close achievement gaps between different student subgroups. With 494 students in prekindergarten through the fifth grade, the suburban school has earned national recognition under Wood’s direction. Honors include a National Title I Distinguished School Award in 2007 and a Panasonic National School Change Award in 2008. By establishing a school program that builds partnerships with students’ parents, Wood has fostered significant increases in membership in the school’s parent-teacher organization and attendance at parent-teacher conferences. Parent workshop offerings on academic subjects and opportunities for community involvement in the school also have increased. The program serves as a model for other schools in the district. Wood has overseen an improvement in her school’s culture, in part by building multiple opportunities for students and school community members to receive recognition. She has led the implementation of a collaborative teaching model in which general education and special education teachers work together as partners to meet students’ needs. Staff members today collaborate within professional learning communities. “This collaborative spirit pervades the school and has been central in our success,” says Wood. She has a B.A. from the College of William and Mary in Virginia and an M.Ed. from Virginia Commonwealth University.


Kathleen J. Werner
Stevens Elementary School, Aberdeen School District
Aberdeen, Washington

The year that Kathleen Werner came to Stevens Elementary, more than 200 students had come to her office for misbehavior by the end of September. After she was principal for two years, she saw only two students for behavior issues. Werner reduced discipline problems by creating an environment in which school staff members provide clear, consistent management in order to focus students’ time on learning. She spearheaded the painting of walls, created hallway signs, and promoted a sense of pride to make the rural school an inviting and caring place for the 500 preschool through sixth-grade students. “We build a community for everyone at Stevens through creating a safe place, holding high expectations, and pursuing excellence,” she says. Thanks to grants written by several staff members, Werner’s school has received cutting-edge technology resources in recent years that have helped advance student learning. Three years ago, the site joined a network of schools that has helped it create stronger systems for promoting high achievement by all students. Staff gain insight on teaching collaboratively, aligning instruction to standards, assessing learning, reviewing student data, providing interventions for children with academic or social problems, and promoting college readiness. Werner has led Stevens Elementary since 2006. She received a B.A. from Washington State University and an M.Ed. from Walden University in Minnesota.

West Virginia

Boyd Clinton Mynes, Jr.
Martha Elementary School, Aberdeen School District
Barboursville, West Virginia

Childhood visits to the one-room schoolhouse where his mother taught nine students across nine grades indelibly shaped the educational views of Boyd Mynes. “I witnessed firsthand the caring, skill, and hard work needed to make each of her students, most of whom were economically disadvantaged, experience both personal and educational success,” he says. At the rural school he has led since 2002, Mynes similarly strives to give his best to the 265 students he currently serves in prekindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms. With his focus on keeping abreast of changes in education and adopting innovations, Boyd has championed reforms such as revamping school scheduling to lift time restrictions that he felt had previously impeded effective instruction. He also has developed professional learning communities among his staff members. The improved collaboration among teachers has led to new instructional practices that have boosted student engagement, among other beneficial results. After receiving training from Drs. Madeline Hunter and Benjamin Bloom, Mynes implemented  mastery teaching practices into his staff’s professional growth plans. He is most proud of this accomplishment. “I have seen numerous teachers grow professionally as a result of this training,” he says. In 2009 Martha Elementary School received recognition as a West Virginia School of Excellence. Mynes earned a B.A. from West Virginia State College and a master’s degree from West Virginia College of Graduate Studies.


Jeanne A. Siegenthaler
Dixon Elementary, Elmbrook School District
Brookfield, Wisconsin

Before Jeanne Siegenthaler arrived at Dixon Elementary, the suburban school had the lowest test scores of six elementary sites in its district. But after Siegenthaler arrived in 2008 and led the staff and Building Leadership Team to develop and meet the goals of a school improvement plan, students’ scores on math and reading assessments jumped to the top ranges of district comparisons. To combat perceptions at the time of her arrival that school leadership was lacking, Siegenthaler greatly increased verbal and written communications and support to staff members and students’ families. These efforts resulted in significant improvements in ratings of school leadership by staff members. For example, current surveys show that 100 percent now agree that “the school administrator is an effective leader” and “the administrator communicates effectively,” compared to past results of 58 percent and 60 percent, respectively, for these survey items. “Staff tell me that I motivate them to become better teachers,” says Siegenthaler. In her previous principalship of five years, Siegenthaler turned around decreasing enrollment, staff turnover, and low morale, leading her building to excellence and recognition as an exemplary school. Her current school’s enrollment has reached 381 students in kindergarten through the fifth grade. Siegenthaler has a B.S. from the University of Wisconsin at Platteville and an M.A. and an Ed.D. from Edgewood College in Wisconsin.


Jason E. Hillman
Meadowlark Elementary School, Sheridan County School District No. 2
Sheridan, Wyoming


At Jason Hillman’s school, every student spends one half hour daily receiving academic enrichment or intervention services to ensure that all get the help they need. Through the system Hillman established, staff assess students on outcomes the school considers essential and then divide them into groups based on data. Each grade level has a team of five to seven teachers who provide instruction to students to meet their identified challenges. Hillman has spent a decade as principal of Meadowlark Elementary, a small-town school of 312 children in kindergarten through the fifth grade. He takes pride in having built a “positive school community and a great team,” which includes parents in active roles in the education of their children. Staff members work together for at least one hour weekly on grade-level teams, creating academic assessments, reviewing student learning data, and sharing instructional strategies with each other. Hillman invites parents to drop in and ask him questions, volunteer, or observe at the school. Students learn respect through character education embedded in the curriculum. During the past four years, student achievement levels on district, state, and other tests have increased dramatically. Hillman previously served as a teacher at his current school. He received a B.S. from Dickinson State University in North Dakota and an M.A. from the University of Wyoming.

U.S. Department of State - Overseas Schools

Cynthia L. Gause-Vega
International School of Prague, U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Schools
Prague, Czech Republic


During the past six years, Cynthia Gause-Vega has transformed her elementary school’s culture “from one of professional isolation and anxiety, as well as parent frustration and anger, to a positive, collaborative learning environment for faculty, students, and parents,” she says. Today, she describes the work environment of her school this way: “As professionals we engage in learning together how to better support students’ learning and inquiry, actively communicating with and including the parent community.”

Gause-Vega is the principal of an international school that currently educates 371 students from prekindergarten through the fifth grade. Her collaboration with faculty members, especially teachers who take leadership roles in the school, has led to the creation of a curriculum that allows children to learn about topics that interest them and fosters goal setting and self-reflection among students. Gause-Vega also has developed structures and protocols at her school that ensure the systematic use of data, including benchmark data, to inform instruction and program development. She arrived at the International School of Prague in 2005. She also has been a director and an elementary-grades teacher at the American School of Las Palmas in Spain. Her education credentials include a B.A. from Ripon College in Wisconsin, an M.A. from the University of Northern Colorado, and an Ed.D. from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

Kathleen R. Selitzer
American School of Puerto Vallarta, U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Schools
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico


Central to Kathleen Selitzer’s philosophy as a principal is the notion that everything done by every school staff member in the school leads to student learning in some way or another, so all personnel have the same primary aim: “All roads lead to student learning: a safe environment, a clean campus, a balanced budget, a great Mother’s Day program,” she says. “We measure everything we do by the same yardstick, and we share our accomplishments.” Kathleen Selitzer’s top successes as a principal include initiating a community service program that has helped children develop an ethic of social responsibility. The program now serves as an integral part of the preschool and primary-grades curriculum. Selitzer also spearheaded a math program that permits all 208 students in the school, which spans preschool through the sixth grade, to receive math instruction at individual levels. This enables the children to “continuously experience a feeling of success and academic growth,” she says. The school-based “parent university” Selitzer launched builds the understanding of students’ families in the curriculum and teaching strategies. Selitzer has led the American School of Puerto Vallarta as principal for 12 years. She previously worked as a teacher at the school. She also has been both the principal and a teacher at the American School of Pachuca in Mexico. She received B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Nevada.