Three principals—one from South Carolina, Illinois, and Georgia—have been named as finalists for NASSP’s 2018 National Principal of the Year (POY) award.

The NASSP Principal of the Year program honors state principals from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Schools, and the Department of Defense Education Activity. Out of these exceptional school leaders, three are selected as finalists and one is ultimately selected for the National Principal of the Year award. Each year, the award is presented to an outstanding middle level or high school principal who has succeeded in providing high-quality learning opportunities for students as well as demonstrating exemplary contributions to their profession.

The 2018 National Principal of the Year finalists are:

Jack Baldermann
Westmont High School, Westmont, IL

Jack has cultivated a culture of safety and compassion that has led to incredible student achievement. His school was one of 500 nationwide that were chosen in 2015 by Newsweek for “Beating the Odds.” All African American and Latino students have graduated on time, four years in a row, and the number of underrepresented AP Scholars has increased by over 700 percent. Since 2015, the school has been the most improved regular high school in the nation on the Washington Post Challenge Index (and ranked top 1 percent in the state). The staff feels supported by Jack, who has led them collaboratively in building ambitious, student-centered programs based on the school’s vision and S.M.A.R.T. goals. On top of faculty support and student success, Jack also believes in mentorship, having served as leader mentor to over 40 principals in 14 states. Additionally, in his 25 years as an administrator, 21 of the educators he hired and mentored for their first administrative position have gone on to become successful principals and superintendents.

Akil Ross
Chapin High School, Chapin, SC

As an instructional leader, Akil models best practices and consistently challenges faculty members to grow professionally, as he understands the important link between professional growth and student performance. Professional development sessions are held twice a month—often, Akil leads at least one of these. Under his leadership, Akil led his school to be recognized as a South Carolina Palmetto’s Finest Award recipient in 2015. Its graduation rate now exceeds 95 percent and it is nationally ranked by U.S. News and World Report and the Washington Post. Akil’s mantra for the school is, “We are a thousand passions with one heartbeat,” and he aims to foster an environment where students can be challenged, but also pursue their own interests. There are 21 AP courses, an Academic Leadership Academy, an award-winning Navy Junior ROTC program, a nationally qualifying BETA Club, an award-winning student government program, and a wide range of sports programs for both male and female students.

Tommy Welch
Meadowcreek High School, Norcross, GA

In his six years as principal at Meadowcreek High School (MHS), Tommy took one of Georgia’s largest and lowest performing, yet most diverse, urban schools and raised the graduation rate from 47 to 73 percent. One teacher described Tommy as embodying Muhammad Ali’s idea that “impossible is nothing!” and this is apparent in initiatives he has implemented, including the introduction of more STEM courses, project-based learning, on-campus internships with business partners and state politicians, and transforming the school into five smaller college- and career-theme learning centers. MHS has Georgia’s first full-service bank in a school, as well as a makerspace designed in collaboration with Georgia Tech. The guiding principles that motivate his school improvement efforts are collaborate, inspire, and own—Tommy uses these to empower students, staff, and the community to accomplish their goals and succeed.

NASSP is honored to recognize these extraordinary school leaders, who have made such strides in school improvement, as evident in the engagement and success of their students, staff, and communities.

The finalists will be recognized at the 2017 NASSP Principals Institute, an event that convenes all state principals from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Schools, and the Department of Defense Education Activity. The institute will be held in Washington, D.C., September 24–27, 2017, and will involve a series of professional development activities; meetings with congressional members; and an awards program, which will be attended by dignitaries, policymakers, and industry peers.

The national POY will be announced in October during National Principals Month.

For more information on the POY program, please visit

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