Three exceptional school leaders have been named finalists in the 2015 NASSP National Assistant Principal of the Year program for their success in raising student achievement and leading a culture in which students thrive.

Jessica Ainsworth, Lithia Springs High School, Lithia Springs, GA
Facing some of the lowest student achievement scores and graduation rates in the state of Georgia, Jessica Ainsworth was charged with implementing a federal School Improvement Grant to turn around a struggling culture and climate at Lithia Springs High School. She did this by instituting The MANE Thing, a six-pronged initiative that reflects a clear purpose and vision for academic success. Ainsworth involved all stakeholders in the emphasis on classroom instruction, intervention programs, assessment and performance data analysis, attendance, behavior and supervision, and parent engagement. Her efforts have led to consistent increases in reading scores across all subgroups, most notably a tripling of the reading proficiency rate among students with disabilities from 27 percent to 83 percent. Success is also evident in increases in the graduation rate, job placements, and college acceptances. Despite a focus on achievement data, Ainsworth values the students behind the numbers and maintains strong relationships with stakeholders. Students describe Ainsworth as approachable and teachers value the professional development opportunities she regularly creates for them.

Dyan Harrison, Gaithersburg High School, Gaithersburg, MD
During her 18-year tenure at Gaithersburg High School-the last six as an assistant principal-Dyan Harrison witnessed shifts in demographics and a climate whose decline was accelerated by frequent principal turnover. But under the guidance of a supportive principal, Harrison worked with a team of staff and students to create the Signature Academies of GHS, a rigorous instructional program that enables all students to explore career paths. Over 400 students have earned academy honors since its inception. With Harrison’s leadership, Gaithersburg also established a protocol for staff to identify honors and advanced placement students, which resulted in a 20 percent increase in minority enrollment. To increase students’ chances for success in rigorous courses, Harrison led a collaborative effort to develop a summer enrichment program for first-time AP students. In August 2013, the school opened a $95.8 million state-of-the-art facility. Harrison led the technology modernization, which provided students with access to over 1,000 computers, 129 touchscreen Promethean Boards, and 20 computer and mobile labs. She also worked to identify departmental technology allocation, managed the budget, and ensured that staff received proper technology training.

Sarah Longshore, Dutch Fork High School, Irmo, SC
Sarah Longshore is in her seventh year as assistant principal for instruction at Dutch Fork High School, which is recognized as one of the highest performing schools in South Carolina. Longshore leads the school’s extensive AP program, whose success is measured both in high scores and in the involvement of students in all demographic areas. With an open enrollment policy on AP courses, Dutch Fork administered 1,460 exams to 735 students in 2013-14, accounting for 40 percent of the student population-16 percentage points higher than any other high school in the state. With extensive communication to parents and a network of academic supports, AP scores at Dutch Fork also lead the district and exceed national averages. Longshore also takes pride in the school’s positive climate, demonstrated by a 56 percent decrease in discipline referrals during her tenure, which she attributes to the quality of student and teacher interactions. According to report card surveys, stakeholders agree: 98 percent of teachers, 91 percent of parents, and 90 percent of students indicated satisfaction with the school’s social and physical environment.

The 2015 Assistant Principal of the Year selection process started in early 2015, when each NASSP-affiliated state principals association submitted their state assistant principal of the year. A panel of school leaders and educational thought leaders reduced the field to 10, from which another panel selected the three finalists.

The finalists, along with all state winners, will be honored at the 2015 NASSP Assistant Principal of the Year Symposium, during which they will also visit Capitol Hill to meet with their elected officials. A panel will also interview the finalists during the Symposium to select the National Assistant Principal of the Year, who will be announced during a surprise assembly at the assistant principal’s school before the end of the school year.

For more information about the NASSP Assistant Principal of the Year program, visit



The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and school leaders from across the United States and 35 countries around the world. The association connects and engages school leaders through advocacy, research, education, and student programs. NASSP advocates on behalf of all school leaders to ensure the success of each student and strengthens school leadership practices through the design and delivery of high-quality professional learning experiences. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor SocietyNational Junior Honor SocietyNational Elementary Honor Society, and National Association of Student Councils.