This winter, a group of school leaders from across the country came together to review contenders for NASSP’s Advocacy Champion of the Year. Going in, they knew this wouldn’t be easy. The awardee had to embody the mission of the organization and demonstrate an exceptional commitment to advocating on behalf of school leaders and schools. Although a number of candidates were deserving, one stood out.

Melissa Shindel, the 2023 NASSP Advocacy Champion of the Year.

After some intense discussion, it was clear that Melissa Shindel, the principal of Glenwood Middle School in Howard County, MD, and the State Coordinator for the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP), would be this year’s Advocacy Champion. The announcement came last Tuesday at the first-ever National School Leaders Advocacy Conference, where 400 NASSP and NAESP school leaders gathered in the nation’s capitol to advocate for the resources their schools need and discuss education policy with members of Congress.

“Advocacy is so important because school has changed so much in the last five, 10, 15 years, and most people have not been in a school since they attended school themselves,” said Chris LeGrande, the principal of Guthrie High School in Guthrie, OK, who opened the celebration. LeGrande himself was last year’s Advocacy Champion, and next year, he’ll serve as the executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Secondary School Principals and Oklahoma Middle Level Educator Association to elevate the collective voice of school leaders across his state in policy and public discourse.

“Unfortunately, many people think they’re experts in education purely because they attended school when they were kids,” he said. “But they have in no way, shape, or form dealt with anything like the pandemic that we’ve had to work through, struggle through, and learn through. We have to help these people come in and actually see what we’re doing on the ground.”

NASSP President Aaron Huff presented Shindel with the award and lauded her work activating her Maryland colleagues to advocate for policies that will support students and schools. “Together with other members of MASSP, she has been a leading voice for school leader priorities in Maryland’s implementation of the new Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a far-reaching plan to redesign education in their state,” Huff said.

When she accepted the award, Shindel noted the Blueprint offers wonderful opportunities for educators and students. Still, it is clear that school leaders should have been included in many of the decisions around it, she said. One of those decisions is that the Blueprint requires assistant principals to teach in the classroom for at least 20% and suggests that principals teach for 10% of the school day.

“As instructional leaders, we are teachers. It may not look like traditional teaching in a classroom, but we teach throughout the day, every day, in numerous ways. Given the complex nature of an administrator’s job, it will be challenging to implement the Blueprint requirements for teaching as mandated, and remain readily available to students, staff, parents, and community members who need our assistance or immediate attention,” she said. “My MASSP colleagues and I are advocating for adjustments to the mandate by making our work visible to lawmakers, so they understand the impact this will have in our schools.”

Shindel also recognized NASSP’s role in helping to make the voices of school leaders heard. “I love NASSP; I love the collaboration, advocacy, support, and professional learning that it provides, and I want members to keep using your voices and doing the good work you’re doing because it is moving our kids and our schools forward.”

Advocate for your school by asking your representatives to strengthen the educator pipeline here.

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