A Professional Community Like No Other

One member shares her story of forging lifelong bonds through the NAESP annual conference.
By Priscilla I. Ocasio-Jiménez
Communicator
July 2019, Volume 42, Issue 11

The NAESP Pre-K–8 Principals Conference is by far one of the best conferences I have ever attended, and it became more evident than ever during my transition from a middle-level principal who supervised elementary levels to the head of a preschool education program.

Although our middle school was originally structured as a sixth-through-eighth-grade system, our school expanded to include fifth grade in 2018. Because those new students had to transition from an elementary setting to the middle school, I wanted to assure parents that we would still offer a traditional fifth-grade, elementary experience. I immediately began to tackle this issue with a professional development mindset to best meet the needs of my students. That meant joining NAESP and enthusiastically registering to attend its 2018 annual conference in Orlando, Florida. Never in my wildest imagination would I have imagined that this would become such a life-changing experience for me.

A Bond of Friendship and Support

After arriving to the conference in Orlando, I was met with open arms. The initial part of the conference focused on a community service project at Catalina Elementary School. During this time, I met with dynamic principals and other dedicated individuals, including family members, who came together to construct a brand new playground and complete other projects for the students at the Catalina. I won’t sugarcoat this experience. This was extremely hard work, but it was a labor of love—a humbling, yet rewarding experience. And it served as the beginning of a bond of friendship and support that will remain for years to come.

After our community service project, I was excited to attend conference sessions. I learned from dynamic and energetic presenters that discussed a variety of educational topics. These guest speakers were true and genuine educators who possessed such a passion for learning and sharing their ideas with others.

I left my first NAESP conference in such awe—overwhelmed by a multitude of fresh ideas to try at my school.

Reuniting in Spokane

I had also truly formed an instant and profound bond with my new educational colleagues. I appreciated social media for providing the means for me to keep in touch with my newfound colleagues and friends. We encouraged one another to attend the 2019 NAESP Pre-K–8 Principals Conference in Spokane, Washington. As the conference was rapidly approaching, I began to reach out to my new, professional colleagues, as I was looking forward to seeing them and collaborating on projects and professional development opportunities once again.

Coming from the east side of the U.S., I knew it would be a budgetary challenge to my school district to attend the conference since we were quite a distance away from the conference location. However, because attending the conference meant so much to me, I offered to pay my own flight expenses so that the district would not have to absorb those costs. The Board of Education and the superintendent were very supportive by agreeing to cover the costs of the NAESP conference and the hotel expenses.

The conference was very well-organized and provided pertinent and relevant educational strategies. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a conference veteran or a newcomer; NAESP offers training sessions, learning experiences, and opportunities for all attendees. The overall experience was not just about the outstanding professional development experiences; it’s also about the special social networking and personal supports that take place. These occur not only at the conference, but throughout the year, as well.

During the NAESP conferences, I have seen that you can have dinner and share an experience that only other principals would understand and appreciate. During these gatherings, NAESP attendees have been able to shift through and weigh the tremendous amount of shared ideas to determine the benefits and possibilities for their own schools.

I am grateful for the individuals who I met along the way during these conferences. Special thanks to Eric Cardwell, outgoing NAESP, and Ann Henley, former associate executive director of Membership and Marketing, who not only welcomed and introduced me to other NAESP educational leaders but who also took me under their wings as I ventured into my new journey in elementary education. Thank you to NAESP for offering outstanding professional development sessions and for the wonderful opportunity to network and form such strong family bonds among educators.

Priscilla I. Ocasio-Jiménez is principal at Norma Elementary School in Pittsgrove, New Jersey.

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