Every quarter, the NASSP Policy & Advocacy Center recognizes outstanding volunteer advocates who dedicate their time to advancing the policy and civic priorities of school leaders, public education, and students across America. The Principal Advocate Champion is someone who has made a powerful impact on the direction of public education policy through their personal engagement with state and federal policymakers and their ability to organize grassroots support behind NASSP advocacy initiatives.

The NASSP Policy & Advocacy Center is proud to announce that Derrick Lawson, principal of Indio High School in Indio, CA, has been named the fourth quarterly Principal Advocate Champion of 2019!

For this Southern California high school principal, advocating for students and public education is a calling. Beyond his busy day-to-day role managing a school and creating a culture where his students can achieve academic success, Lawson dedicates his time to promoting the type of public policy that will ensure future success for generations of students to come. He recognizes that it’s easy to take access to public education for granted—but that if we don’t fight for the funding and resources schools need, our kids could suffer the consequences.

“I think it’s critical that [when talking to lawmakers] we connect policy with the everyday impact it has on our children,” Lawson said in an interview. “They are our country’s most valuable resource. They’re going to shape the future of our country and our economy, and we have to draw the connection between K–12 policy to their future.”

In Southern California, no school leader is more adept at connecting those dots for lawmakers than Lawson. He’s spent 26 accomplished years as an elementary, middle level, and high school principal, was honored as the 2012 California Principal of the Year, and taught for nine years prior to his principalship. Throughout much of that time, he’s worked diligently to build relationships with his state and federal elected officials and their staff, knowing that by becoming a trusted resource on issues affecting principals, schools, and students, he can have a hand in shaping stronger public education policy.

“When I interact with local, state, and federal lawmakers, I’ve seen firsthand some of the things I’ve discussed with them enacted and policy shift to support our students as a direct result of my advocacy.”

Among the many lawmakers he’s built lasting, meaningful relationships with and had an impact on over the years is his current congressman, Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA), whose niece attended Indio High School. When the congressman would come to events at the school, Lawson would make a point to welcome him and talk about the issues that matter most to principals. Going further, he also took the time to research what issues Rep. Ruiz was most passionate about, and Lawson offered to be a supporting resource for legislative work around bullying prevention in schools and veterans’ education.

Rep. Ruiz posing with Derrick and the baseball team

Over time, his rapport with the congressman and his office has only grown stronger, and it’s positioned Lawson as a principal with the power to have real influence for public education on Capitol Hill. It’s also created some fun perks for the school community, like when Rep. Ruiz asked if Lawson would do him the honor of giving him an Indio High School jersey to wear in the annual Congressional Baseball Game this past June at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Lawson proudly points out that Rep. Ruiz chose wearing Indio school colors over even his own high school’s jersey! Perhaps it was good luck, too—Ruiz’s Democrats went on to defeat the Republicans 14–7.

With many daunting challenges facing schools today, Lawson says it’s more important than ever for principals to take the time to develop relationships like these with state and federal lawmakers. For Lawson, it provides a seat at the political table and a chance to support students at on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the state house in Sacramento, CA. Recently, the top issues on his agenda have included improving schools’ and districts’ ability to attract and retain high quality educators, increasing incentives for those who wish to become educators and mitigating the cost of doing so, adequate compensation for teachers and principals, and improving equitable access to education for all students. Because he’s already established meaningful connections with legislators, California principals can trust that their positions will be represented as policy is made around those issues in the years to come.

NASSP is proud to recognize Derrick Lawson’s outstanding commitment to advocating with federal and state lawmakers by naming him a Principal Advocate Champion. For more on the great work that he is doing in California to advocate for excellent public education, follow him Twitter at @derrickLawson62.

Interested in getting involved with advocacy for school leaders? Sign up to receive more information and click here to find and contact your NASSP State Coordinator(s).

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