2002 National Principal of the Year Finalists

POY LogoMeet the Finalists

Justice cannot be done in this small space to the accomplishments of the finalists; however, these profiles provide a flavor for their styles of leadership. To emphasize the unique traits required at the middle and high school levels, this program recognizes one middle level and one high school principal.

Middle Level Finalists


    Edward A. Vittardi
    Independence Middle School

    6565 Brecksville Road
    Independence, OH 44131
    Edward A. Vittardi(216) 642-5865

Edward Vittardi received his bachelor of arts degree from Cleveland State University in 1984 and his master of education from Kent State University in 1987. He began his career teaching at Dodge Middle School in Twinsburg in 1984 and has served as a school administrator for the past 11 years-including the past two years at Independence Middle School.

Vittardi considers the personalization of the educational experience vital to student achievement and school success. "Today and in the future, students at the middle school are entreating a delicate and often tumultuous window of development between the child they were and the adult they will become. All the programs, scheduling, teacher development and team building should be directed toward empowering adolescents with the tools and the confidence to develop their individual voice in a democratic community of learners," Vittardi says.

Vittardi has had a direct impact, through instructional leadership, staff development and a team approach school administration, on student achievement. Independence Middle School has instituted completely flexible block scheduling. Eighth graders now have 120 minutes of uninterrupted instructional time; they are no longer limited by a rigid 40 period. Test scores are up and, most importantly, students are learning.

Vittardi is the former president, and current vice president, of the Ohio Middle School Association and serves as president of the Metro Athletic Conference Middle Level Division.

"Mr. Vittardi's leadership style is characterized not only by technical knowledge but also more importantly by his ability to understand the needs of the middle school student. The changes he has implemented at Independence Middle School address the educational, psychological, social, and emotional concerns associated with adolescence."

David J. Laurenzi, Superintendent
Independence Local Schools

"Ed has been instrumental in initiating innovative programs within his school. He quickly identifies emerging issues and takes the appropriate actions to keep the educational program he facilitates at the pinnacle. Colleagues regularly remark that he leads by example, administers through genuine caring for middle level education and superbly serves the youth and school community."

Mark A. Robinson, Principal
Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School


    Kevin J. McHugh
    Pennwood Middle School

    1523 Makefield Road
    Yardley, PA 19067
    Kevin J. McHugh(215) 428-4237

Kevin McHugh began his career in education teaching music in 1978. After 15 years in the classroom, McHugh accepted the position of assistant principal at Arcola Intermediate School. He is currently the Principal at Pennwood Middle School, a position he accepted in 1996. Dr. McHugh holds bachelor and master degrees in music from Temple University and a doctor of education degree in educational leadership from Lehigh University. His doctoral dissertation Exploring the Relationship Between the Perception of Principals' Leadership Behaviors and the Potency of Teaching Teams at the Middle Level, earned him the National Association of Secondary School Principals' Middle Level Dissertation of the Year Award in 2000.

McHugh believes that the improvement of instruction is at the very core of school success, "The assistant principal and I reinforce best practices in our classroom observation and pre- and post-observation conference interactions. I have also shared these concepts at the district level with other principals. Providing instructional leadership is the most important asset I have."

McHugh serves as the vice president of the Pennsbury Administrators and Supervisors Association. He is a past vice president of the Methacton Administrators Association and is a member of more than a half dozen educational organizations. He was recently named an adjunct professor at Lehigh University where he will teach a graduate level course on the principalship as part of the principal preparation program.

"As the consummate professional, Dr. McHugh does whatever it takes to get the job done. He has the uncanny ability to know when the student needs a gentle hello, how can I help you approach or when the student needs to know expectations in no uncertain terms."

Ralph M. Nuzzolo, Superintendent
Pennsbury School District

"Not one to sit in his office and delegate responsibilities to others, Dr. McHugh is a dynamic 'hands on' leader who is actively involved in all aspects of school life and readily accessible to students, parents, and staff."

Cheryl Stanker, Teacher
Pennwood Middle School

"Pennwood has had exciting innovations take place in the past few school years. We believe that the progressive attitudes of the staff that help to fuel these innovations stem from the open-mindedness and tremendous energy that Dr. McHugh brings to his position."

Pamela J. Castellanos and Catherine A. Constantino
Co-Presidents, Pennwood PTO


    Sharon "Sheri" Stears
    Orah Dee Clark Middle School

    150 South Bragaw
    Anchorage, AK 99508
    Sharon (907) 742-4700

Sharon Stears began her career in education in 1980 as a teacher at Robert Service Jr./Sr. High School after receiving her bachelor of arts degree from Montana State University. She went on to earn a masters in public school Administration from the University of Alaska, Anchorage in 1991. She has spent a total of 7 years in school administration, including the past three years as principal of Clark Middle School.

Stears considers listening the most important skill she brings to Clark. When she first took the reigns at Clark three years ago, the school climate presented a number of daunting challenges. Her first order of business was to listen to those around her-teachers, students, parents, and school staff. Together they changed the attitude about success within the school. They have since added more difficult classes to the schedule, increased the number of students on honor roll, and provided activities that are aligned with student interests-such as an after-school Break-dancing class, tae kwon do, and Eskimo doll making.

Stears is a member of the Alaska Association of School Principals, the Alaska Association of School Administrators, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

"She assessed the needs of the school community - both the students and the staff - and has reached out to the parent community in a way that has increased parental involvement in the school. This is a major challenge in that the school is extremely diverse linguistically - over 40 different dialects and languages are spoken by the students at Clark!"

Carol Comeau, Superintendent
Anchorage School District

"Ms. Stears makes Clark Middle school a positive climate to be in because she wants every student to be involved and to know that they are cared about. We want to come to school because we know that if we have any problems we only need to go and talk to her."

Student Advisory Board
Clark Middle School

"Ms. Stears' enthusiastic leadership has turned Clark Middle School into a dynamic and effective school"

Gail B. Opalinski, Executive Director for Middle Level Education
Anchorage School District



High School Finalists




    David A. Bruzga
    Long Reach High School

    6101 Dobbin Lane
    Columbia, MD 21045
    David A. Bruzga(410) 313-7117

David Bruzga began his career in education in 1973 as a social studies teacher in Howard County. After five years in the classroom. Bruzga transitioned into school administration, where he has spent the last 23 years. Mr. Bruzga has been the Principal of Long Reach High School for the past six years. He holds a bachelor of arts from Gannon University and two Master's degrees-one in liberal arts and one in science-from The John Hopkins University.

Opening a new technology magnet high school in Howard County brought many new challenges for an already seasoned principal. Bruzga was intent on aligning the direction of the school with current research about what works with high school education. Many of his administrative decisions are the direct result of such research. At the same time, Bruzga was committed to ensuring that students, specifically the personalization of teaching, were the focal point of the school. "The need to personalize and 'humanize' the high school environment for both students and teachers has been a guiding principle of our school since its opening." Mr. Bruzga and his staff have been very successful in obtaining grants that allow them to focus on this personalization.

Mr. Bruzga is a member of both the National and Maryland Associations of Secondary School Principals, is a former president of the Howard County Secondary School Administrators' Association, and has served as a delegate to the National Education Association National Convention. In May 2001 he was given Honorary Lifetime Membership to the Maryland PTA for his commitment to education. He also received the 2001 High School Parent/Teacher Collaboration Award from the PTA Council of Howard County.

"One thing that has become obvious to me is Dave's ability to reach out to his community for collaboration and support. Parents feel welcome in his building and are a vital ingredient to the daily success of Long Reach."

John R. O'Rourke, Superintendent
The Howard County Public School System

"Despite the increasing demands of time, energy, responsibility, and work placed upon an educator in today's diverse society, I continue to be energized by the positive atmosphere created by David Bruzga."

Diane L. McAllister, Social Studies Teacher
Long Reach High School


    Sharon L. Buddin
    Ridge View High School

    4801 Hard Scrabble Road
    Columbia, SC 29223
    Sharon L. Buddin(803) 699-2999 ext. 206

Sharon Buddin began her career in education in 1969 as a social studies teacher. She then spent more than a decade coordinating and directing student activities for Spring Valley High School. She has spent the past 25 years serving as a school administrator. Buddin has been the principal of Ridge View High School for the past eight years. Buddin earned a bachelors of arts in history from Winthrop College and a master's in education from the University of South Carolina. In 1995, she earned a degree doctorate in Educational Administration from the University of South Carolina.

Opening a new school offered a great opportunity for this already experienced principal. She was responsible for the physical readiness of the new school building, but equally as important, for establishing the new school's climate. Ridge View, under Dr. Buddin's leadership, has developed five schools-within-a-school and established a place where students feel welcome and, safe, when the desire to learn thrives. Establishing partnerships within the community was a big part of creating a quality climate at Ridge View. "Partnerships with businesses and community agencies can no longer be simply lip-service to a good idea. They must be working entities that expand the scope of education into the real-world settings with real-world insights," Buddin says.

Buddin is the former president of the South Carolina Network for Women in Administration. She is a member of several professional organizations, including the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Notably, the South Carolina Association of School Administrators named her South Carolina Administrator of the Year for the 2000-2001 school year.

"Among Dr. Buddin's special talents is her ability to draw together a varied and creative staff, articulate a clear vision for them, and give them the freedom and trust to carry out the vision."

Stephen W. Hefner, Ed.D., Superintendent
Richland School District Two

"Dr. Buddin works to establish meaningful partnerships with parents, businesses and the community, which reflect her commitment to all stakeholders as she leads a large, comprehensive high school. She sets excellence as a goal seeking to meet the needs of all students."

Pamela J. McGill, Arts Specialist
Ridge View High School


    Paul V. Mitchell
    Colonial High School

    6100 Oleander Drive
    Orlando, FL 32822
    Paul V. Mitchell(407) 482-6300

Paul Mitchell began his career in education as a teacher at Riverside Elementary School in 1974. He became an assistant principal in 1986 and has remained in school administration ever since. Dr. Mitchell has served as Principal of Colonial High School since 1997. He holds a bachelor of arts degree, as well as a master of education, from Florida Technological University. In 1988 he earned a doctor of edducation in educational Leadership from the University of Central Florida.

Mitchell is dedicated to modeling behavior that focuses on teaching and learning. He makes it a point to visit 25 classrooms each day, where he both observes and interacts with teachers and students. He has formed curriculum teams for each subject area with a designated curriculum leader. "As an instructional leader, I knew that we needed to concentrate on teaching and learning, with our instructional units based on state standards and our instructional methodology based on the needs of students."

Mitchell is a member of the Florida Association of School Administrators and a past treasurer of the Orange County Association of Elementary School Principals. Mitchell serves as the high school representative to the Mayor's Community Council. He is also a member of both the East Orange and the Orange County Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.

"I can honestly say that we don't have another principal more dedicated to his students, to their achievement and personal success than he is."

Linda H. Sutherland
School Board Vice Chairman

"He is the ultimate professional. Members of the Colonial High Community will always find his door open and a solution to a problem not far off."

Nancy C. Lister, Social Studies Curriculum Leader
Colonial High School

"His enthusiasm is contagious and Van is one of the hardest working principals I have ever met. It is not unusual for him to be seen working at landscaping or painting at the school on the weekend."

Joseph Joyner, Area Superintendent
Orange County Schools