Since her appointment as executive director and CEO of NASSP in 2011, JoAnn Bartoletti has charted a path for revolutionizing program and service offerings. Almost a decade of leadership at the helm of NASSP has been marked by advancements for the association and the field of education leadership.
With the announcement that she is retiring as of January 1, 2021, we look back at her nine-year tenure characterized by advancements to recognition programs, organizational growth, and empowerment for key stakeholders.
Bartoletti’s time at NASSP has been distinguished by the creation of new recognition programs, the revitalization of existing programs, and enhancing NASSP publications. Shortly after taking her leadership position, Bartoletti oversaw the creation of the Digital Principal of the Year (DPOY) award program in 2012. The DPOY program recognizes principals who harness innovation and new technologies for the benefit of instruction and student achievement in their schools. This recognition helped usher NASSP into progressive education circles, which was particularly important when the education conversation shifted abruptly to virtual and hybrid learning on a schoolwide scale in the spring of 2020. Additionally, Bartoletti has recalibrated the Principal of the Year program to emphasize leadership across school levels.
When it came to communication to members, Bartoletti oversaw a design refresh and rebranding of NASSP publications, including Principal Leadership and Advise. Advise—originally called Leadership for Student Activities—is distributed to Honor Society and National Student Council advisers and provides them with informative, relevant, and motivational content to help inspire their chapter or council. At Bartoletti’s direction, the layout and content of both magazines were completely reenvisioned, and she made the final decisions regarding new designs, formats, and editorial direction. She instituted new columns to Principal Leadership, including #EdTech, Student Centered, Pins and Posts, and Role Call. Principal Leadership received a 2016 ASAE Gold Circle Merit Award in the print magazine category and an Association Media & Publishing 2016 EXCEL Award for magazine redesign. NASSP was also recognized by the Association TRENDS All-Media competition for the redesign.
Bartoletti also directed the greatest revision of the National Honor Society (NHS) in its 100-year history, setting up a framework for the organization’s future. This included overseeing the Honor Society value project, which elevated the NHS values by emphasizing student leadership and college access and broadening the reach and scope of the organization beyond being viewed as an honor roll. The organization significantly enhanced NHS Scholarship recognition during this time—from awarding $250,000 annually to $2 million each year—allowing NHS to recognize more outstanding senior members and help them toward their postsecondary goals, as well as significantly increase the award amount for the national winner.
Gavin Arneson—one of the early recipients of the new award structure and larger scholarship disbursement amounts, and current New York University class of 2021 nursing student—overcame homelessness during his high school years while demonstrating incredible commitment to his studies and his service work through NHS. “Receiving the NHS Scholarship [in 2015] was one of the greatest honors of my life,” Arneson says. “There’s no doubt in my mind that it has reshaped my life course by allowing me to pursue additional classes in the summer, work in internships that I really thought would benefit my professional growth, while not worrying about other expenses. I am deeply grateful for its supporters, including JoAnn Bartoletti.”
Beyond the financial boost to their postsecondary dreams, the NHS Scholarship emphasizes NHS values for the recipients’ leadership journeys. “My having been selected as the 2020 National Winner of the $25,000 NHS Scholarship means that I will be able to obtain my college degree and pursue my dreams,” says this year’s recipient, Madison Lucey. “It enables me to pursue the career of my choice and not have to settle for something else. For this, I am eternally grateful, and I plan to give back to my community and others so that this beautiful gift can be paid forward. The most rewarding scholarship is one such as this which demonstrates that adhering to the pillars of the NHS makes it possible to achieve our dreams, goals, and aspirations.”
JoAnn Bartoletti’s leadership saw NASSP through one of its most consequential eras marked by growth on all fronts. Bartoletti guided the NASSP Board of Directors on recreating NASSP’s governance structure with a new set of bylaws—the first comprehensive revision in NASSP’s 104-year history. The bylaws revision was the culmination of three years’ work by the Bylaws Review Advisory Committee, which Bartoletti formed with the representation of internal and external NASSP stakeholders. The progressive changes to the bylaws widen the pool of potential board candidates and position the board to reflect the diverse perspectives and dynamic skill sets of its members.
“JoAnn recognized early that the composition of the board needed to reflect the composition of the principalship if we were going to continue to provide relevant service to the field,” says NASSP’s immediate Past President Peter Kruszynski. “She made it clear to us that we could not just wait for the board to diversify on its own; we had to be intentional. JoAnn worked closely with me during my term as NASSP president and several of my predecessors to set up policies and encourage states to present candidates who would contribute the variety of perspectives we needed.”
One of Bartoletti’s most significant contributions to education leadership was her reenvisioning the profession—represented by the Building Ranks™ framework—which was released in 2018 to provide education leadership with a common language and set of priorities.
By establishing a framework that encompasses 15 dimensions of principal practice under two domains—Building Culture and Leading Learning—Building Ranks creates a cohesive and accessible picture of a school leader’s evolving role and supports their continued growth. Building Ranks aligns closely with the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, which was created while Bartoletti chaired the National Policy Board for Educational Administration.
“Building Ranks is a powerful expression of contemporary school leadership and a platform for advancing innovative, adaptive, and equitable education throughout America’s schools,” Bartoletti says. “We are confident Building Ranks will go a long way toward illuminating the specific areas where the principal can have the greatest and most effectual impact.”
Bartoletti’s tenure saw growth in student program offerings, including the rebranding of the National Association of Student Councils to National Student Council (NatStuCo). Under her leadership, NASSP created State Summits—one-day experiential leadership development workshops for Honor Society students. Plus, the education community has watched LEAD Conferences and the National Student Council Conference grow with increased participation year after year, contributing to a growth in revenue for student programs.
Bartoletti has also played a critical role in fostering relationships for NASSP. Under her guidance, NASSP renewed crucial connections with state-level principal associations that share common goals. These relationships enabled NASSP to advance a common policy agenda and expanded state associations’ advocacy capacity. NASSP also built strong relationships with organizations toward united goals, such as with The Wallace Foundation concerning principal preparation and developing assistant principals. A partnership with DoSomething.org allowed students the chance at scholarship opportunities for getting families, friends, and community members registered to vote. An intensive research project with the Learning Policy Institute aimed to identify the causes and impact of principal turnover nationwide. Additional partnerships include collaboration with organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, Discovery Education, DonorsChoose, the Collaborative for Student Success, and No Kid Hungry.
“JoAnn’s leadership on equity and inclusion, and her passion for safe and affirming school climates, has benefited countless children and youth around the country,” notes Vincent Pompei, director of the Youth Well-Being Program at the Human Rights Campaign. “Collaborating with JoAnn and the team has been an honor, and we are committed to continuing our partnership with NASSP until no student feels unsafe or less than for being their authentic self. Thank you, JoAnn, for being such a model ally and advocate for LGBTQ students and educators. Enjoy your well-earned retirement knowing you made a significant and positive difference in the world.”
While NASSP has always striven to be a voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States, the Policy & Advocacy Center, under Bartoletti’s direction, has sought to empower school leaders with the resources and information they need to become effective advocates for their schools, their staff, and their students. By creating a network of grassroots activism through NASSP state coordinators, the Policy & Advocacy Center has been fueled by principals and assistant principals who promote federal and state policy that supports education leaders and enables them to create great schools that provide quality education for all students. The quarterly Principal Advocate Champion and annual Advocacy Champion of the Year awards recognize school leaders for their contributions in advancing the policy agenda of NASSP.
The NASSP Advocacy Conference is an extension of that goal, bringing together hundreds of school leaders—including NASSP state coordinators, state principal association executive directors, and volunteer advocates—to speak to their members of Congress and advocate on behalf of critical education issues. Even when the 2020 NASSP Advocacy Conference had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, the Policy & Advocacy Center made the planned breakout sessions virtual to give school leaders the tools they need to communicate with policymakers at all levels of government.
With this aim of leveraging principals to discuss their needs and expand their advocacy capacity, Bartoletti’s leadership at NASSP saw the formation of specialized support groups. The Principal Recovery Network (PRN), founded in April of 2019, is a national network of current and former school leaders who have experienced gun violence tragedies in their buildings.
“April 20, 1999, is a day that my life changed forever,” says Frank DeAngelis, former principal of Columbine High School in Columbine, CO. “I made the comment, ‘I just joined a club in which no one wants to be a member.’ Unfortunately, the membership of principals whose schools endured shootings continued to increase after the Columbine tragedy. I made a promise to my Beloved 13 who so tragically lost their lives that I would not allow them to die in vain. So, when I was asked by the leadership of NASSP to help form the Principal Recovery Network, my response was an immediate yes.”
The PRN seeks to assist principals in the immediate aftermath of a crisis and beyond by providing much-needed support to colleagues, sharing their combined experiences with the larger principal community, and advocating for national school safety measures and violence prevention programs. “I wish we had the network after my own tragedy,” DeAngelis says. “I am eternally grateful for JoAnn Bartoletti and her leadership in creating the PRN. The network is a fantastic resource for leading in the aftermath of a tragedy. Thank you, JoAnn. You will be missed.”
In June of 2020, NASSP founded the LGBTQ+ School Leaders Network for principals and assistant principals who identify within the LGBTQ+ spectrum in order to provide a supportive community to school leaders who often feel unique isolation from withholding aspects of their lives that others share freely. The network seeks to provide a mutual platform of support as well as to understand how perceptions about LGBTQ+ identity get in the principal’s way—and then work to remove those obstacles.
Bartoletti’s steady leadership also supported NASSP in being able to move quickly to navigate the current environment and challenges brought by COVID-19. In the early days of quarantine, NASSP quickly set up the “Leading Through Crisis” virtual town hall series to address the most top-of-mind issues for school leaders, including seeing to student and staff well-being, communication, and sustaining school culture. Bartoletti supplemented this series with weekly emails to NASSP members. NASSP continued its offerings with blog posts from NASSP member principals, links for peer-to-peer resources, and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Policy & Advocacy Center mobilized to address issues like widespread internet access for students during remote learning and COVID-19 recovery funding for schools.
The NASSP Board of Directors honored JoAnn Bartoletti in July of 2020 with the Distinguished Service to Education Award. Bartoletti’s career allowed her to rise through the ranks as an educator and school leader, giving her the firsthand experience that would make her contributions at NASSP so meaningful. “Throughout my decades of work with principals and assistant principals on both the state and national level, I am constantly reminded of the selfless dedication with which they lead schools,” Bartoletti says. “There is no higher calling than school leadership. NASSP has been a part of my professional life for a very long time and I will treasure the friendships I have made with staff and colleagues. Now more than ever, the young people of our nation need strong, caring educators to lead our schools. I am proud to have been numbered among you.”
Sidebar: A Lifetime of Leading and Learning
Prior to assuming the leadership of NASSP, JoAnn Bartoletti served as the executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association for 20 years. During that time, she updated the professional development offerings for the organization’s administrators and raised the profile of New Jersey administrators in public policy circles. Bartoletti partnered with the state department of education on a nontraditional principal certification program that greatly expanded the pool of competent school leaders by enabling professionals with advanced degrees to pursue and acquire principal certification.
Bartoletti spent eight years as assistant principal and seven years as principal at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School, which was ranked as one of the top 10 schools in New Jersey. She serves on the Board of Directors of the National Student Clearinghouse, the Learning First Alliance (which she chaired in 2017), and the National Policy Board for Education Administration.