School leaders faced extraordinary challenges in the 2020–21 school year. Principals found themselves navigating not only the halls of their buildings but also virtual environments in their mission to provide high-quality learning opportunities for all their students. For their exemplary work, the following school leaders have been selected as finalists for the NASSP 2022 National Principal of the Year:
Keith L. Ball
Marietta High School
When Keith L. Ball was hired at Marietta High School in 2018, he was the school’s fourth principal in five years. Marietta High School had never met the state graduation rate nor earned above a “C” on the state report card. But from day one, Ball intentionally sought to help improve the school by establishing meaningful ways for students to actively participate in leading it.
In 2019, Ball presented a proposal to the Marietta City Board of Education to support a fund for a justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion project to address the school’s long-standing issues of race and inequity. Once the pandemic hit, issues for students from low-income families, including food insecurity and access to safe and affordable housing, only intensified. In an effort to ensure those students had a path to graduation, Ball proposed an evening program to provide a flexible learning environment during nontraditional school hours.
One of the most impactful tools Ball utilized during his time as principal was the Cognia eleot 2.0 training certification to observe and document classroom environments, ensuring student-centered, meaningful, and equitable instruction. Ball’s administration also made finances transparent and simplified them to provide staff and students the materials they needed in a timely manner. In 2019, the hard work began to pay off, with Marietta finally earning a “B” on the state report card. In 2020, it earned the highest graduation rate in the school’s 128-year history.
Fulton Middle School
For Principal Beth Houf, equity at Fulton Middle School begins with her leadership. In 2015, the school was not meeting student needs, the culture was toxic, and trust was low. So Houf and her team began intensive training in professional learning communities to ensure that best practices, a viable curriculum, quality assessments, and educational interventions were all founded on a collaborative culture.
Houf saw early on the need to implement an advisory period for all students, focusing on empathy and empowerment. To rebuild the school’s culture and build trust between students, staff, and families, Houf and her team turned to training in restorative practices and invited local experts to train educators in trauma-informed teaching. This schoolwide commitment led to a 40 percent reduction in discipline referrals.
When the pandemic hit, Houf realized that old ways would not solve new challenges. The school immediately began check-ins with families via Google Forms (free online surveys), encouraging families to ask for whatever supports they needed. Ultimately, the school’s Return to Learn Plan, which was instrumental in planning and implementation for the 2020–21 school year, showed just how much Fulton’s learning community depends on collaborative leadership.
Sutton High School
In Ted McCarthy’s time as principal of Sutton High School, he has worked hard to make the school a place where students and staff love to learn and grow. One of the ways he’s done it? By encouraging students and teachers to play a larger role in shaping the school’s direction.
Student voice and agency are at the heart of each decision McCarthy makes at Sutton. Many changes are the direct result of student feedback and ideas, such as ensuring that students in the same grade don’t take all their assessments on the same day or adding a daily advisory period that gives students the opportunity to manage their own time and get individualized help.
Among the changes students have advocated for is the creation of the school’s Connections Team—a social justice group comprising 40 students and eight staff members. Every year, this team facilitates a six-hour, anti-racist/anti-bias workshop for all ninth graders—which many students cite years later as their most meaningful experience at the school. In 2019, Sutton hosted the first Connections Conference on social justice for students and teachers throughout Massachusetts. Due to COVID-19, the school made its most recent conference virtual, drawing over 700 participants from across New England.
About the NASSP Principal of the Year Program
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 select one middle level or high school principal to represent their state. From these state winners, three finalists are named as contenders for the National Principal of the Year award. The 2022 National Principal of the Year, selected from among the finalists, will be announced during National Principals Month in October. Learn more about the program at www.nassp.org/poy.