“She’s super nice. Except when it’s time to fight.”

That was NASSP CEO Ronn Nozoe praising Melissa Shindel the 2023 Advocacy Champion, as she prepared to pass the torch to Chris Young, the principal of North Country Union High School in Newport, VT.

2024 NASSP Advocacy Champion of the Year Chris Young, center, with 2023 Champion Melissa Shindel, left, and NASSP CEO Ronn Nozoe. Photo courtesy of NASSP.  

The announcement came this week at the National School Leaders Advocacy Conference, where nearly 400 NASSP and NAESP school leaders came together in Washington, D.C. to ask Congress for the resources and policies needed to take on the mental health and educator shortage crises.

The honor, given annually to a school leader who has worked to elevate the voices of school leaders in federal, state, and local policy decisions, couldn’t have gone to a more deserving recipient. Young has fervently worked to give principals a voice in the decisions that most affect them and their students, leveraging his platforms as the 2023 Vermont Principal of the Year, the NASSP Vermont State Coordinator, and the President-Elect of the Vermont Principals’ Association. He has advocated for policies to address student mental health challenges and student substance abuse. And he has raised awareness of the educator pipeline shortage in several interviews and op-eds in national outlets. His unwavering commitment to his students, staff, and colleagues brought him to the nation’s capital to ask his congressional representatives to support policies that create safer, more inclusive learning environments.

“Oh, and by the way, his day job is as a high school principal,” Nozoe added wryly, after explaining to the audience the many hats Young wears as an educator.

Shindel, the 2023 Champion, shared why she thinks this award is so significant. “In a room filled with passionate advocates, I am reminded of the collective effort required to drive positive change. None of us do this work alone—I know I don’t. I value the work each of you, our state coordinators, are doing in your home states. I also value the work I get to do at home in Maryland with a strong state association. Our team at MASSP, bolstered by the collaborative efforts with our elementary counterparts, has amplified our advocacy and has helped the children, schools, teachers, and leaders in our state.”

Young with Norah beads. Photo courtesy of NASSP. 

And she offered advice to educators looking to advocate beyond their school walls. “Please do not underestimate the power of your experiences, your role, and your voice.” she said. “Please do recognize the significant influence of your advocacy. As state coordinators, please do not let others make decisions for our schools—be active and stay active. Engage your statewide teams. Engage people who can help you. Have a presence.”

Young was surprised by the recognition. “This is amazing,” he said. “Thank you, Ronn and everyone. As Melissa said, everyone in here does the work and tells their stories. I love the theme of telling stories this week.”

He also shared a story he planned to tell his congressional delegation. “If you see us wearing these bracelets, they are ‘Norah beads,’” he said, raising his wrist. “Started by her mother, they honor a student at my school who died by suicide. All of Vermont’s delegates speaking to Congress will be wearing these, and our representatives are going to get a bracelet. I don’t think they can ignore her story.”

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