What Drives the NASSP National Principal of the Year Program?

One of the highlights of the October celebration of National Principals Month is our announcement of the 2016 National Principal of the Year. In the spring, each state selects its own principal of the year and advances that person to NASSP for consideration for nat­ional honors. From the pool of 50 winners, a panel of esteemed judges selects three finalists, then a national winner. We have been fortunate that so many high-caliber individuals have worn the title and become known to policymakers from small-town Main Street to Pennsylvania Avenue.

While the high quality of these individuals impresses me, it does not surprise me. After all, the National Principal of the Year is an exemplar of practice in a profession full of exemplary leaders. Yes, sometimes the National Principal of the Year is recognized for feats that appear superhuman (witness Jayne Ellspermann’s creating a satellite community college campus at her high school and Sheila Harrity’s extensive list of intensive career and technical education [CTE] partnerships). But it is not constructive to portray that leader as a superhero. A goal of our Principal of the Year program is to influence public policy. And expecting school leaders to be Supermen and Wonder Women is not an effective public policy foundation.

Later this month, one of three exceptional leaders will receive a Publishers Clearinghouse-style visit at their school to announce the National Principal of the Year. Each finalist has a great story and would be a deserving ambassador of both the profession and of NASSP. For the next year we will celebrate that individual, but we also will listen carefully to discover how that principal became so successful, what experiences were central to his or her success, and what skills and processes must be in place for that success to be replicated. We have to demystify this person’s success as much as we celebrate it. Only then can we move the needle on policy and continue to build cadres of principals of the year for generations to come. 

Happy National Principals Month!  

JoAnn Bartoletti
Executive Director, NASSP