Watch the video of the surprise announcement on NASSP’s Facebook page

Chapin, SC – Dr. Akil E. Ross, Sr., principal at Chapin High School in Chapin, SC, has been named the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) 2018 National Principal of the Year.

The announcement was made during a surprise assembly at the school this morning, attended by U.S. Congressman Joe Wilson, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, State Superintendent Molly Spearman, and other dignitaries. “Dr. Ross is an exemplary leader who challenges both his students and staff to achieve at the highest level,” stated Spearman. “I congratulate Dr. Ross on being named the 2018 National Principal of the Year and look forward to his continued dedicated service to the students of South Carolina.”

The announcement comes as part of the 2017 celebration of National Principals Month.

Under Ross’ leadership, Chapin High School was recognized as a South Carolina Palmetto’s Finest Award recipient in 2015. He also challenged his faculty to aim for a 100 percent graduation rate. That challenge sparked the analysis of trend data to identify students most at risk of dropping out, then soliciting funding for a “school after school” to extend instructional services for those students. Chapin’s graduation rate went from 82 percent to exceeding 96 percent, with proficiency rates continuing to climb, including a 16-point spike in math proficiency among Black students.

Dr. Ross’s mantra for the school is, “We are a thousand passions with one heartbeat,” and he aims to foster an environment where students can be challenged while pursuing their own interests.

Members of the selection panel were impressed by how Dr. Ross embraces the principal’s primary role as, in his words, “the number-one driver for institutional change” who consistently builds a culture that promotes social justice while preparing students to lead productive lives.

“It did not take long to recognize that Dr. Ross is an agent of infectious change,” said Susanne Thompson, vice president for professional development at Discovery Education and a member of the selection panel. “He focuses first on helping people understand and value their purpose. Then, by binding their purposes, Dr. Ross leads a group of professionals to act to improve learning for each student at Chapin High School.”

“Akil Ross’ accomplishments illustrate just how important it is to invest in leadership as a means of improving student learning,” NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti remarked. “We are honored to recognize him as a powerful multiplier of effective practice and as a model of compassionate school leadership.”

“NASSP is honored to celebrate this great principal, Akil Ross. But this is also a celebration of the principalship-of how his great leadership builds the potential of every student in the school,” added NASSP President Daniel P. Kelley. “Dr. Ross’s work reminds us that an investment in leadership is an investment in learning. And we want to pursue the bigger conversation about what it might take to get an Akil Ross into every school in the country.”

Chapin High School is located in District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties, in the northwestern suburbs of Columbia. It serves approximately 1,315 students in grades 9-12. The school boasts a 97.7 percent school attendance rate and a 96 percent graduation rate. Of the 12 years that Ross has been a school administrator, he has spent 7 as principal of Chapin.

District Five Superintendent Dr. Stephen Hefner said, “Dr. Ross is most deserving of this high honor. He is a great visionary, an extraordinary leader, a highly-skilled manager, and a phenomenal culture builder. He is an excellent representative of our profession and will be a most effective spokesperson for public education on the national level.”

“Congratulations to Dr. Akil E. Ross for being named the 2018 National Principal of the Year,” said Beth Phibbs, executive director of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators. “He is an exemplary leader in his school, community, and professional association.”

Ross holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Duke University and a doctorate in education from the University of South Carolina.

He joins a prestigious list of South Carolina colleagues previously honored as NASSP National Principal of the Year: Sharon Buddin of Columbia’s Ridge View High School in 2002, and Lucy Beckham of Wando High School in Charleston County in 2009.

The NASSP National Principal of the Year (POY) program annually recognizes outstanding middle level and high school principals who have made exemplary contributions to their profession and to their students’ learning. Each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity, and the U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Schools selects one principal to represent their state. Of these, three finalists are named as contenders for the award, with one being recognized as the NASSP National Principal of the Year.

With sponsorship from Jostens, each state winner receives a custom-designed ring and is enrolled in the McKinsey Management Program for School Leaders, a cutting-edge leadership development program designed in cooperation with McKinsey Academy, the world leader in management training.

For more information on the NASSP Principal of the Year program, please visit

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student’s potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor SocietyNational Junior Honor SocietyNational Elementary Honor Society, and National Student Council.