Erika Burden, PhD, principal at Westwood Middle School in Spokane, WA, has been honored as the NASSP Advocacy Champion of the Year.

The Advocacy Champion of the Year award—now in its second year of existence—recognizes an individual for outstanding and significant contributions to advancing the policy agenda of NASSP and advocating on behalf of all school leaders to ensure the success of each student. These individuals elevate the voice and influence of school leaders in federal, state, and local policy and public discourse. Other criteria include increasing the number of advocates taking action on NASSP campaigns in every state to ensure active representation in all 435 congressional districts, expanding NASSP’s direct influence on federal and state lawmakers and policies affecting school and public education, and engaging student leaders in advocacy to broaden NASSP’s policy impact.

Through Dr. Burden’s concerted efforts to develop lasting, meaningful relationships with her state lawmakers, she has driven collective impact and changed the lives of her students. “Erika listens to the needs of students in her school and puts the needs of students front and center in her messages to lawmakers,” says Roz Thompson, director of government relations and advocacy for the Association of Washington School Principals (AWSP). From working to secure public education and professional development funding to campaigning for increased school safety measures, mental health resources, and suicide prevention programming, Dr. Burden is a tireless advocate and change maker.

Her secret? Dr. Burden regularly has lawmakers shadow her for a day. Walking the halls with her state elected officials and superintendent gives them a firsthand look at the growing equity issues she faces. Observing professional learning communities in real time validates their worth and demonstrates the benefits of this critical collaboration time. It gives them the chance to speak to students directly so they can better grasp their needs and understand the realities of public school education. Her transparency allows Dr. Burden to break down existing silos so that her advocacy efforts can take root and effect change within her school.

Dr. Burden carries her no-fuss open invite philosophy into her work with the AWSP, serving as the middle level committee liaison for the AWSP Advocacy Advisory Council. Through meetings with the Mentoring Principal Leadership Network of AWSP, Dr. Burden has been able to address the equity issues she says were “on her heart” but that she didn’t feel she had the tools to properly converse with staff about. Being closely connected to this army of “people resources”—what she calls the other principals across her state—has empowered her to tackle tough equity issues, make a clear impact, and now lead the conversation.

She has relentlessly demonstrated an unyielding devotion to advocacy engagement at the state and national levels. Dr. Burden’s efforts are amplified by a network of supports she regularly interacts with and motivates to take further action. As the NASSP middle level state coordinator for Washington, she promotes NASSP action alerts to school leaders across Washington state—empowering those leaders with tools to advocate for the needs of their students, schools, and communities. At the federal level, Dr. Burden has conducted many meetings with members of Congress and staff as part of the annual NASSP Advocacy Conference.

Congratulations to Dr. Erika Burden for being named Advocacy Champion of the Year! Watch Dr. Burden receive her award in this virtual presentation and learn more about how you too can become involved in NASSP’s advocacy work.

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