National Distinguished Principals Program

NAESP’s National Distinguished Principal ® (NDP) program honors outstanding elementary and middle-level principals who ensure that America's children acquire a sound foundation for lifelong learning and achievement.

Each year, NAESP congratulates principals from across the nation, in both public and private schools, and overseas, for their exemplary achievements.

Meet the 2020 National Distinguished Principals.

*Due to the declared state of emergency, government restrictions, and other problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 NAESP National Distinguished Principals Program and all related events scheduled for October 2020. Please contact Nikki Sparks with program questions.


The NAESP’s National Distinguished Principal ® (NDP) program was established in 1984 to recognize elementary and middle level principals who set high standards for instruction, student achievement, character, and climate for the students, families, and staffs in their learning communities. The program was based on three fundamental ideas:

  1. Children’s attitudes towards learning and their perceptions of themselves as lifelong learners are established in the beginning school years.
  2. The scope and quality of children’s educational experiences are determined primarily by the school principal, who establishes, through the important work of teachers and the support of caring parents, the character of a particular school’s program.
  3. The dedication and enthusiasm of the outstanding principals who guide children’s early education experiences should be acknowledged to both show appreciation for their work as well as to allow them to serve as models for others in the field.

Each year, NDPs represent Pre-K through grade 8 public schools from all across the country as well as principals in U.S. private schools and those from the United States Departments of Defense Office of Educational Activity and the United States Department of State Office of Overseas Schools. Public school elementary and middle-level principals are nominated by peers in their state, and final selections are made by committees appointed by each of NAESP’s state affiliate offices. Honorees from private schools and overseas schools are selected by special committees.

Criteria established by NAESP require that the individual is a practicing principal with at least five years of experience in the principalship, who plans to continue as a practicing principal. The principal must demonstrate evidence of outstanding contributions to the community and to the education profession and should lead a school that:

  • Must be a member of NAESP for three consecutive years at the time of  nomination and maintain membership through the conclusion of the NAESP Award Ceremony;
  • Is clearly committed to excellence;
  • Has programs designed to meet the academic and social needs of all students; and
  • Has firm ties to parents and the community.

To contact an NDP’s state affiliate, click here.

Questions about the NDP program should be directed to Nikki Sparks.

NDP News Recap

The NDP program features an awe-inspiring gala, where recipients are officially recognized as a nationally distinguished principal. View the highlights from each year's event below by clicking on the photos.

2018 Highlights

October 11-12, 2018

2017 Highlights

October 16-17, 2017

2016 Highlights

October 6-7, 2016

2015 Highlights

October 15-16, 2015

2014 Highlights

October 16-17, 2014

2013  Highlights

October 24-25, 2013

2012 Highlights

October 18-19, 2012



Each year, the NDP class raises funds as part of the NDP Fundraising Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to beat the previous class.

You may donate by phone at 1-800-386-2377, or by mail at:
1615 Duke St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

Thank you to everyone who has donated to the National Distinguished Principals Challenge!


NDP Class of 2018

Class of 2018 - $5,815 
See the list of 2018 NDPs


NDP Class of 2017

Class of 2017 - $5,945 
See the list of 2017 NDPs


NDP Class of 2016

Class of 2016 - $8,397 
See the list of 2016 NDPs
The largest amount raised in the history of the challenge! Way to go!


NDP Class of 2015

Class of 2015 - $6,115
See the list of 2015 NDPs

Class of 2014 - $2,450
See the list of 2014 NDPs

Class of 2013 - $1,625
See the list of 2013 NDPs

Class of 2012 - $2,310
See the list of 2012 NDPs

Class of 2011 - $2,410
See the list of 2011 NDPs

Class of 2010 - $2,025
See the list of 2010 NDPs


Class of 2009 - $1,750
See the list of 2009 NDPs


Class of 2008 - $1,800
See the list of 2008 NDPs