Recognizing extraordinary, tech-savvy school leaders
The education landscape shifted dramatically this past year, with principals everywhere embracing innovation and technology to adapt to their changing circumstances. NASSP is proud to celebrate three principals, whose leadership was needed more than ever. Congratulations to the 2021 Digital Principals of the Year for their work using digital media to improve instruction, student achievement, and their own leadership. We’re excited to share their stories!
Huntley High School
Principal Marcus Belin’s vision for Huntley High School is to help students become problem-solvers, critical thinkers, and engaged citizens who connect with the world, compete globally, and better our society. Huntley High School’s blended learning program, ranked No. 1 in the country by Study.com, enables students to choose the time and place for their own learning. A member of Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools, Huntley’s use of technology to advance equity and excellence has resulted in a competency-based education pilot program that blends in-person and online learning. Belin is proud to have overseen three years of this innovative program, which enables students to creatively master competencies in four core subject areas.
Just as important, Belin has found ways to connect with students and engage them in social-emotional learning through online lessons covering anxiety, mental health, and sexual abuse. The school also turned to ThoughtExchange as a platform where students could engage in meaningful discussions and staff members could gather feedback from families on a variety of topics, including school culture.
Spring Hill Middle School
Spring Hill, KS
When the pandemic hit, Spring Hill Middle School Principal Trevor Goertzen and his staff quickly pivoted to online instruction to meet students’ learning needs. Working within professional learning communities (PLCs), educators prioritized standards and focused on core competencies. Positivity pervades the school, where Goertzen is known for using the Twitter hashtag #Boomerang to signal his belief that the energy and passion we share will always return to us. He drew on his deep reserves of both this past year to ensure that the Spring Hill community stayed positive during tough times.
One hurdle this spring was students’ math achievement. After evaluating student data within the PLCs, Goertzen learned that students had not been meeting their annual growth goals in math. To provide more targeted instruction, a math teacher explored the use of an online program to create and apply formative assessments. When this teacher and the math PLC shared the idea with Goertzen, he immediately recognized the benefits and approved of the program, which the school successfully implemented this spring.
Kelso Virtual Academy
In the spring of 2020, Principal Cindy Sholtys-Cromwell was hired to lead Kelso Virtual Academy. To meet the needs of the community during the pandemic, she was immediately tasked with expanding it to a K–12 school. By August, enrollment went from 30 students to over 1,000. With this growth, Sholtys-Cromwell and her team had to quickly design a plan to meet the vast learning needs of students, particularly those with IEPs. She worked directly with special education staff and intervention specialists on professional development to ensure access to and modifications of the online curriculum.
So that online teaching and learning could start without a hitch on the first day of school, Sholtys-Cromwell made sure all students had a Chromebook and internet access, not only for meeting their academic needs for but for accessing information regarding community resources such as free meals. She and her staff worked tirelessly to keep students engaged in their learning and ensure they had what they needed to succeed.