National Principal of the Year Finalists

The search for the National Principal of the Year begins every spring as each state principal’s association selects its State Principals of the Year. From this pool of state award winners, a panel of judges selects three finalists.

2019 NASSP National Principal of the Year finalists

Lucas Clamp

River Bluff High School
Lexington, SC
@LucasClamp

Lucas Clamp fosters a culture that stems from a unique desire to connect with each person, developing their skills and talents, and believing their individual and collective contribution to a local and global community will change the world. One student stated that he “maintains a warm and secure climate in which both students and staff are held to high standards,” and the results reflect this. For instance, a commitment to closing the achievement gap with African American students prompted teachers to provide unique, differentiated learning experiences and intervention. Over three years, scores have risen from 42.9 percent to 68.6 percent in ELA and 65.8 percent to 87.9 percent in math. The overall graduation rate has also increased to 94.1 percent. Lucas has also strived to ensure teachers feel supported. He facilitates teacher collaboration by working with lead teachers and works with the scheduling team to ensure that teachers have one hour of collaborative planning time built in their schedules for every course that two or more teachers teach.

Paul Kelly

Elk Grove High School
Elk Grove Village, IL
@EGPrinciPaul

In a majority-minority school where a significant portion of students live in poverty, Paul Kelly has created a positive school culture based on his mantra of “challenge, support, and patience.” During his tenure as principal, nearly half of economically disadvantaged students were proficient or advanced in reading/ELA, despite 500 students living in densely populated mobile home parks that lack a park area or library. Nearly 60 percent were proficient in math. While the Latino population and poverty rate both tripled, AP participation quadrupled, with more than 50 percent of the Class of 2017 receiving a passing score on an AP exam. His focus on giving everyone a voice and being what one staff member referred to as “a champion of bold ideas,” has led to high levels of student success at his school, with graduates now at colleges like Stanford, UPenn, and Northwestern.

Hannah Nieskens

Whitehall 6–12
Whitehall, MT
@NieskensJD

With her emphasis on a school staff and community vested in the success of all students, Hannah Nieskens took a small, rural school where almost half of the students are economically disadvantaged and worked hard to offer opportunities available at larger, suburban schools. When she became principal, Whitehall High School (WHS) was ranked 99th of 166 high school in the state, as measured by the ACT. After her first year, WHS ranked 25th, and last year, it ranked 6th. In the middle school, students scoring proficient and advanced in math has increased 31 percent in the three years Hannah has been principal. In reading, the increase was 45 percent, and the amount of F’s issued by teachers decreased by 63 percent. On top of this, 2/3 of students in each class are on the honor roll, and office discipline referrals decreased by 84 percent. Crediting data-based instruction, teachers and parents alike praise Hannah’s reformation efforts to ensure every learner has the proper support while making learning gains.


“Education should empower students to have a voice in building the future they will lead,” stated NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti. “Each of these extraordinary school leaders has found creative ways to help kids succeed and have proven themselves to be powerful multipliers of effective practice.”

These three finalists will be recognized at the 2018 NASSP Principals Institute, an event that convenes all state principals from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Schools, and the Department of Defense Education Activity. The institute will be held in Washington, D.C., September 23–26, 2018, and will involve a series of professional development activities and meetings with congressional members.

The 2019 National Principal of the Year will be announced in October during National Principals Month.