Congratulations to Chelsea Jennings from Lakeside Junior High School!

Arkansas has the highest rate of adverse childhood experiences in the nation at 60%. Trauma and stress often manifest as behavior problems, and if educators can learn to see these as calls for help and opportunities to teach missing skills, they have the ability to lessen the negative impact and create productive learning environments centered on well-being and safety. For Assistant Principal Chelsea Jennings, that is “the heart of the work I strive daily to implement and nurture.”

Chelsea Jennings
Lakeside Junior High School
Springdale, AR

NASSP is excited to announce that Chelsea Jennings from Lakeside Junior High School in Springdale, AR, is the 2021 National Assistant Principal of the Year (APOY)! The APOY program honors outstanding assistant principals who advance their profession and provide top-quality learning opportunities for their students. We’re honored to recognize Assistant Principal Jennings with this award. 

Jennings led an initiative to make trauma-informed social-emotional learning (SEL) interventions and resources accessible for every adult and student. She partnered with Ozark Guidance to expand school-based counseling services with an additional

therapist and behavioral paraprofessional this year, doubling the number of students receiving services. Knowing there would be heightened anxieties with schools reopening, she led professional development focused on SEL strategies, such as opening class with a “Dump and Jump,” an opportunity to “dump” emotions and distractions so students can “jump” into the work. 

To address poverty in her school community, Jennings advocated for the expansion of the district social worker program. She also facilitated a faculty book study on Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind. She makes an extra effort to assist families in hardship, including getting a washer and dryer donated to launder clothes (and masks) and pulling resources to provide internet, clothes, and holiday presents for struggling families.

Jennings volunteered to lead the district’s Alternative Learning Environment (ALE) in her school building. Students in the program exhibit multiple risk factors, including low achievement, chronic absenteeism, discipline issues, or difficult home lives. Jennings and her team researched successful ALEs in surrounding communities, facilitated book studies on social-emotional learning, and hosted an institute on trauma-responsive discipline. By restructuring and advocating for resources, they expanded to a multidisciplinary team of six teachers and a mental health therapist, social worker, and bilingual parent liaison. The team met with parents and students to create individualized academic and behavior goals and partnered with a local nonprofit on a peer leadership program. By year two, they had doubled involvement in school-based counseling, cut discipline referrals in half, and established an inclusive model for transitioning students into mainstream classes.

“Because every student matters, schools must create paths that ensure all students receive what they need academically and social-emotionally to thrive,” Jennings said. “Receiving this award acknowledges our role as assistant principals in cultivating student learning and well-being.” 

NASSP is honored to recognize Assistant Principal Chelsea Jennings as the 2021 National Assistant Principal of the Year—along with all our finalists and state winners. Each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity, and the U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Schools selected an assistant principal, from which three finalists were named. All honorees and finalists will be recognized at the Nationals Principals Conference. We congratulate Assistant Principal Jennings on her incredible achievement! 

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