Three Top School Leaders Selected as 2017 National Principal of the Year Finalists

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) has named three exceptional school leaders from across the United States as finalists to contend for NASSP’s 2017 National Principal of the Year. The finalists will be recognized during a September awards program to be attended by dignitaries, policymakers, and industry peers.

Tom Dodd, Lesher Middle School, Fort Collins, CO
When Tom Dodd took the reins at Lesher Middle School 11 years ago, he found that the school’s successful International Baccalaureate in the Middle Years Program (IBMYP) had led to the creation of a de facto remedial track among non-IBMYP students. With a focus on schoolwide equity, Dodd launched a vision of success for each student in the school and expanded the competency-based report cards (previously the exclusive domain of IBMYP) to the entire student body. The vision is symbolized by an anchor pin that each student and teacher wears, accompanied by the motto “Anchor Down” to highlight the importance of students feeling grounded in the school and teachers advocating for all students. To provide that same collegial support to teachers, Dodd schedules 80 minutes of daily common planning time for all teams and departments. Under Dodd’s leadership, Lesher was named a 2012 MetLife Foundation-NASSP Breakthrough School and the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform has named Lesher a School to Watch each year since 2014. This withering school that was on the verge of closure now maintains a wait list each year.

Melissa Hensley, Central High School, Woodstock, VA
Melissa Hensley deeply believes that successful leadership is shared leadership, and she has lived that belief throughout her 11-year administrative tenure. During the past four years at Central High School, a 2015 Blue Ribbon School, Hensley has empowered her teachers to lead the “One School, One Goal” school-improvement initiative complete with faculty-led priorities and professional development. The success of the model earned Hensley and her leadership team an invitation to present at a 2016 U.S. Department of Education Teach to Lead Summit. That empowerment extends to students as well, who have multiple platforms for amplifying their voices, including National Honor Society and National Association of Student Councils. Student empowerment is also represented in the active learning that drives the 790-student school, including project-based learning and STEM programs. In fact, the school recently built the infrastructure to assume a local nonprofit business, which students lead in its entirety. The success of this approach is especially apparent among students with economic disadvantages, who consistently demonstrate 80-percent-plus proficiency levels.

Stephanie Johnson, Maynard H. Jackson High School, Atlanta, GA
When state officials asked Stephanie Johnson to turn around Jackson High School in 2012, it was no small request. Even though Johnson was a veteran leader of two school turnarounds, Jackson High School ranked 377 of Georgia’s 399 high schools. And the stakes were even higher, as a “gentrifying” community was demanding a school program that would make the school a school of choice. But despite the challenges, Johnson delivered. With extensive outreach to local businesses and the community, the school added 14 AP courses and a fully authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) program by 2014. Johnson’s outreach to Georgia Tech resulted in an early-college engineering program. Standardized test scores skyrocketed among all demographic categories, and students are consistently engaged in school-due largely to an infusion of cocurricular activities. To align expectations throughout the K-12 continuum, Johnson regularly leads Pedagogy and Practice professional development sessions with leaders in feeder schools. The combined efforts have converted, in Johnson’s words, “a school vision to ‘Mission Possible.'”

“We see in these three leaders an uncompromised commitment to fulfilling the potential of each student in their school,” said NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti. “Schools cannot succeed without great leaders, and that quality is the essence of great leadership. We are honored to recognize them.”

The three finalists will be recognized during the 2016 NASSP Principals Institute, which convenes all state principals of the year from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Schools, and the Department of Defense Education Activity in Washington, D.C., this September 11-14 for a series of professional development activities and meetings with their members of Congress

The NASSP National Principal of the Year honor is given annually to one principal who exemplifies the characteristics that research has shown to be most effective in school leadership. The search for NASSP’s National Principal of the Year began in early 2016 as each state principals association selected its State Principal of the Year. From this pool of state winners, a panel of judges selected three finalists. The finalists will be interviewed by a separate panel of judges on September 11 and the 2017 national winner will be announced during National Principals Month in October.



About NASSP

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and all school leaders from across the United States and more than 36 countries around the world. The association connects and engages school leaders through advocacy, research, education, and student programs. NASSP advocates on behalf of all school leaders to ensure the success of each student and strengthens school leadership practices through the design and delivery of high quality professional learning experiences. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, and National Association of Student Councils.

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