The following pages highlight four school leaders who have made valuable contributions to their schools and communities. A few of the people they’ve impacted the most—two students, a parent, and a teacher—tell their inspiring stories.

How Our Principal Shows He Cares

Alexis Morada | Student

Alexis Morada with Derek Bellow, principal of Liberty High School in Henderson, NV.

With more than 3,000 students, our school, Liberty High School in Henderson, NV, is one of the biggest in the state. You would think that a school with that many students would be sort of an impersonal place where it’s impossible for the administrators to get to know all the students.

But that’s not true at Liberty, and it’s because of our principal, Mr. Bellow. He knows so many students here by name. You see it when he walks down the hallways and talks to everyone. I think that’s one of the things that really makes him a great principal—he makes sure he knows his students and staff. And he helps to ensure there’s a real sense of community at our school, whose mascot is “The Patriot.” We know we are all part of the Patriot family, which is what we call it.

Culture is really important at our school, and Mr. Bellow is willing to say yes to all kinds of events and activities. That’s important to the student council because we are always coming up with new things that we want to do to keep things exciting, like playing music during lunch, or holding games and activities after school. That’s what creates traditions and makes Liberty so unique. 

Mr. Bellow loves to play crazy games, and he’s not afraid to put himself out there. Even if something is silly, he’s up for it. And because he gets involved in all the activities, it makes students want to participate, too.

He just cares so much about all the students. I think that’s what stands out to me the most about Mr. Bellow.

Last year, I served on the board of the Nevada Association of Student Councils, and Mr. Bellow won the award for Administrator of the Year. It was a surprise for everyone else, but I told him in advance to make sure he would come to the state conference in Reno. He was shocked, but he completely deserved it. And it was awesome to be there and see him win it.

I remember when I was first elected student body president, we had an awards ceremony that I had to emcee. Mr. Bellow sat right next to me and went through everything. He gave me little pointers about what to say and how to stay calm and do well.

We also hosted a student government conference for schools from all over southern Nevada, with more than 1,000 people in our gym. It was the craziest experience, but he was there to help us and support us through everything, so the conference was a success.

Through student government and the National Honor Society, we do a ton of activities in the community, working on lots of projects with different groups. One of the biggest events involves putting together care packages for people in the military in honor of a soldier who lost their life serving our country. We fill a ton of boxes. Mr. Bellow is always at our events, supporting us and helping bring the community together for good causes.

As student body president this year, I’m really looking forward to working with Mr. Bellow to keep our school spirit high and make sure everyone feels included, especially with so many students here. I want students to want to come to Liberty and feel like it’s a fun, safe place that they look forward to coming to each day.

Alexis Morada is a senior at Liberty High School in Henderson, NV. As a sophomore, she was recognized as a Distinguished Student Leader by National Student Council (NatStuCo).

A Focus on Community and Transparency

Sarai Kaller | Parent

Left to right: Israel Kaller, Principal Teri Dudley, Nathan Kaller, and Superintendent Sam Buenrostro at River Heights’ NJHS induction.

When I think of all the reasons why Teri Dudley is a great principal, one that stands out is transparency. She keeps the parents at River Heights Intermediate School in Eastvale, CA, informed about everything and anything that is going on at the school, from academic goals to technology updates to behavioral issues. There are no surprises ever on anything.

For example, she hosts a regular monthly “coffee with the principal” for parents. She sends out a monthly email to families. And she welcomes parents who have anything they want to discuss with her about their child.

Both my sons, Israel and Nathan, now attend high school, but I remember four years ago when I was a brand-new parent of a seventh grader. I was sitting in the “coffee with the principal” meeting, and I was nervous because it’s a big school with more than 1,000 students. My son Nathan had a mistake with his schedule. At the meeting, Ms. Dudley asked about him, including his name and what elementary school he had attended. She made it a point to know who I was, who my son was, what the issue with his schedule was, and how she would get it taken care of. She has the type of personality where you just trust her that things will get done.

Since that first meeting, I’ve seen her do the same thing at every meeting with parents. She has a very hands-on approach that shows the parents that she cares.

Both my boys were active in the school’s National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) chapter, and I was an involved parent in the chapter. I appreciated her support of the program and, even more, of the school’s academic focus. The school offers a very challenging academic program that gives students the opportunity to earn high school credits before they enter ninth grade.

Sometimes students at other schools are not necessarily aligned with whatever vision the principal has for the school. But at River Heights, Ms. Dudley expects the NJHS students to be the leaders of the school. They set the example for their classmates because they are constantly reminded that they need to set an example. The NJHS kids run the orientation for incoming seventh graders, so you have the NJHS kids telling the new students how important it is to strive for good grades, take honors classes, participate in community service, and more. So, when it comes to Ms. Dudley’s vision for River Heights, the NJHS kids are the ones who spread the word.

My boys always felt that she was there for them, and they respected her because they knew they couldn’t mess around. I think she genuinely knows her students, and they know that she knows who they are. She understands what the students are capable of, and she challenges them all the time.

She also has great relationships and support in the community from business, political, and civic leaders. My boys took part in lots of community service opportunities, which is very important at the school. When the school creates those opportunities, it brings people together, and I think it helps the community grow together and become more cohesive.

Ms. Dudley is incredibly dedicated to the school and is so generous with her time. When we had PTSA meetings during COVID, she would log onto our Zoom calls in the evening even if she was driving her child somewhere or had other things going on. She didn’t need to be on, but she was. I know that after 5 p.m., most people don’t really want to deal with whatever work issue is going on, but not her. If you send her an email at 10 p.m., she’ll respond if she’s awake.

I’m sad that my boys are not at the school anymore. But I could not be happier about the education they received and how it prepared them for high school.

Sarai Kaller is the parent of two graduates of River Heights Intermediate School in Eastvale, CA.

A Principal Who Brings Joy to the Job

Magdalena Mata | Instructional Coach

Magdalena Mata, instructional coach, and Dr. Beto Hinojosa, principal of Boerne-Samuel V. Champion High School in Boerne, TX.

For many teachers across the country, the past two and a half years have been the toughest in our careers. One of the things that we’ve likely been missing is joy for the job.

This focus on bringing back the joy we all had when we went into this profession is so important as we continue to tackle pandemic-related challenges in our schools. And it’s one of the reasons why I am so thankful for the opportunity to work alongside Dr. Beto Hinojosa.

I spent one year with Dr. Hinojosa at Capt. Mark T. Voss Middle School in Boerne, TX, where he was the principal, and I was the seventh-grade history teacher. This school year, we both work at Boerne-Samuel V. Champion High School, where I am in a new role as a secondary instructional coach, and he is the new principal.

In my 15 years of teaching, I’ve worked with a lot of administrators. He’s the first principal who focused on cultivating joy for teachers and is an advocate for telling human stories. When other district staff, teachers, or even parents know that I work with him, they say things like, “He’s amazing, he’s so kind, he’s so respectful.” I’ve heard that from multiple people.

From my own experience, he very much sees the leadership potential in teachers, and he promotes that leadership within the school. It’s not a top-down experience where teachers are focused on meeting certain requirements of administrators. Rather, he understands that we are the leaders in our classrooms, we know our kids best, and we are capable of leading from the classroom.

Working with Dr. Hinojosa is probably the first time where my passion, my leadership, and what I bring as an expert to the field of education were not seen as intimidating or threatening. In fact, he has encouraged me—saying that I have the capacity to make a long-term impact in this district, especially walking into this new position at the high school, which is a very new and welcome experience for me.

Our professional relationship has been built on a common understanding that what is best for teachers is what is best for students—this is a sense of equality. We both see each other as professionals in our own right. When we talk, we usually quickly discuss what needs to get done, and then we do it. I really appreciate that.

Dr. Hinojosa loves to bring staff together and encourage a sense of camaraderie so he’s always creating opportunities for staff to come together, whether it’s bowling, going out to dinner, or bringing in food for the teachers to share, and all the time encouraging each of us to share our stories.

For me, as a Hispanic teacher, it’s nice to see a Hispanic educator in a leadership position who is thoughtful, intentional, and inclusive.

I’m enjoying my new role and my new school as I work with Dr. Hinojosa and the leadership team to bring back joy to teachers. Teachers are professionals. We don’t need to fix them or what they’re doing. Collectively, teachers need to feel loved, appreciated, supported, and seen—and that is what we are doing under the leadership of Dr. Hinojosa.

Magdalena Mata is a National Board-Certified Teacher of early adolescence social studies/history and a secondary instructional coach at Boerne-Samuel V. Champion High School in Boerne, TX.

Why We Loved Our Principal

Janae Johnson | Student

Janae Johnson with Tom Hatch, former principal of Terry Sanford High School in Fayetteville, NC.

If I had to describe Mr. Hatch in three words, I would say spirited, fun, and empathetic.

Spirited. Mr. Hatch would be at every event for our school, Terry Sanford High School in Fayetteville, NC. He would sometimes be jumping out of his seat at the calls the referees made against our “Dawgs” (Bulldogs), but he was always engaged, whether it was at a school sporting event, a fundraiser, or anything else we had at our school.

Fun. When most principals see students in the hallway taking pictures or making TikToks, they would tell them to get to class, maybe in a not-so-nice way. Not Mr. Hatch. He was the type of principal to jump in your picture or TikTok, and then look at it to make sure it was good. Only then would he make sure you got to class. That’s something our students really loved about him.

Empathetic. Mr. Hatch and the other administrators at our school never liked to see any student down. He was always looking for ways that he could make a situation better, regardless of the circumstances. He has set the bar high for our next principal.

I’m very active in my school and my community. I’m student body president, and I participate in many clubs and organizations. I’m also active in the Miss America organization (I’m the current Miss Fayetteville Outstanding Teen).

But I wasn’t always so confident, and I didn’t always feel like I was good enough. Growing up as an African American girl and attending schools in Cumberland County, I always wanted to stand up for other people and use my voice to help them. I wanted to be a leader, but I didn’t know how, and no one pushed me.

But once I met Mr. Hatch, that all changed. He saw my potential. He recommended that I serve on the superintendent’s student voices group representing all high school students in our district. And he submitted my name to be part of the Fayetteville-Cumberland Youth Council, which was amazing. He saw a light in me that I didn’t quite see in myself at the time, and he trusted that I would represent the school well. I never had a more remarkable principal.

One of our biggest challenges in the Student Government Association was to schedule events. It was difficult for us as officers to find times when Mr. Hatch could attend all of them because he wanted to be present at everything our school did. From sporting events to conventions to assemblies, he was there—whether it was 10 minutes away or two hours away. And that is something that didn’t go unnoticed by the students.

In April 2021, as a sophomore, I was crowned Miss Fayetteville Terry Sanford (FTS). Last winter, I was our men’s basketball manager. At every game, Mr. Hatch would pull up a chair under the basket to sit and watch the game and monitor the gym. Well, just for fun, I would always steal his seat. I mean it was the BEST seat in the house. After a while, he got tired of standing next to me while I sat in his seat (because I never got up), so he started bringing two chairs—one for the principal and one for me, Miss FTS. Then when I was crowned Miss Fayetteville’s Outstanding Teen in February 2022, I still had my own seat, and he even offered me some of his popcorn every day.

I could go on and on because Mr. Hatch has left such a big mark on me. I have had the privilege of being a BULLDAWG for all four years of high school and having Mr. Hatch as my principal was the biggest blessing of all.

Janae Johnson is a senior at Terry Sanford High School in Fayetteville, NC. As a junior, she was recognized as a Distinguished Student Leader by National Student Council (NatStuCo).