2014 National Principal of the Year Finalists

The following six principals were selected as finalists for the 2014 MetLife/NASSP National Principal of the Year award:

Sheena Alaiasa
Samuel Wilder King Intermediate School
Kaneohe, HI

Sheena Alaiasa, principal of Samuel Wilder King Intermediate School in Kaneohe, HI, has been named a finalist in the 2014 MetLife/NASSP National Principal of the Year Program for her significant contributions to student achievement. When Alaiasa took the reins in 2008 at King Intermediate–or “King Zoo” as it was better known to the local community because of its reputation for disorder and poor academics–the school’s scores were spiraling downward after several years of restructuring. By 2012, Alaiasa had led the school out of restructuring and into statewide recognition with a STRIVE HI Award as one of seven schools statewide to have made significant gains by closing the achievement gap. She accomplished this remarkable feat by first establishing norms and expectations for behavior for students and staff members that included both individual and shared accountability. Alaiasa also spearheaded an effort to engage parents more in the school and instituted an advisory program to ensure a personalized learning environment, consistent with the Breaking Ranks Framework for School Improvement.

“Mrs. Alaiasa’s constant focus on a values-based campus, her high expectations and her sustained use of data to drive instruction and dictate resources based on student needs has transformed King into a high performing, high growth school,” said Lea E. Albert, Complex Area Superintendent of the Castle/Kahuku Complex Area of the Windward Oahu School District. “Soft spoken, and articulate, Mrs. Alaiasa’s calm, musical tone grounds her vision, facilitation or directions in truth in such a way as to passionately motivate, inspire and bring out the best in staff and students alike.”

Erik Burmeister
Union Middle School
San Jose, CA

Erik Burmeister, principal of Hillview Middle School in Menlo Park, CA, has been named a finalist in the 2014 MetLife/NASSP National Principal of the Year Program for his significant contributions to student achievement. Burmeister was recognized as California’s 2012 Middle Grades Principal of the Year for his leadership at Union Middle School in San Jose before making the transition to Hillview in 2012. During his five-year tenure at Union, Burmeister implemented Response to Intervention, professional learning communities, and renewed the focus on closing the achievement gap. At Union, he instituted one of the first secondary models of RtI, enabling special education students to have access to a guaranteed viable curriculum taught by a highly qualified teacher. After the first year, student test scores soared. As a result, the school’s Academic Performance Index jumped 117 points to 932. He also implemented classes such as Thrive and U-Turn to provide positive guidance for students with behavior issues. As a result, discipline incidents decreased, survey results showed 99 percent of parents said their children feel safe at school, and Union Middle School was recognized as Project Cornerstone Caring Middle School of the Year and a National Schools to Watch by the National Forum for Middle Grades Reform.

“As a result of Erik’s collaborative leadership and his working knowledge of curriculum and instruction, student performance at Union Middle improved dramatically during his tenure as principal,” said Jacqueline Horejs, superintendent of the Union School District. “He is knowledgeable, articulate, collaborative, creative, and above all, visionary.”

Joe Nelson
Pass Christian Middle School
Pass Christian, MS

Joe Nelson, principal of Pass Christian Middle School in Pass Christian, MS, has been named a finalist in the 2014 MetLife/NASSP National Principal of the Year Program for his significant contributions to student achievement. Under Nelson’s leadership, Pass Christian Middle School provides students with a rigorous, data-driven environment where the high expectation of the staff is evidenced by each member’s care and concern for all students. Each child is a product of the school’s mission of “Education for Today; Excellence for Tomorrow.” Although two-thirds of the student population lives in poverty, state assessment scores have remained consistently high during Nelson’s tenure. This success is attributed in large part to Nelson’s obsessive focus on performance data, which leads him to intervene at the first indicator of difficulty. As a result, Pass Christina was 1 of only 15 middle level schools to be recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2012.

“Mr. Nelson has created a climate at Pass Christian Middle School that inspires teachers to create varied learning opportunities for students with different learning needs,” said Beth John, superintendent of the Pass Christian Unified School District. “In addition, he genuinely cares about the future of his students.”

Frank DeAngelis
Columbine High School
Littleton, CO

Frank DeAngelis, principal of Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, has been named a finalist in the 2014 MetLife/NASSP National Principal of the Year Program for his significant contributions to student achievement. During DeAngelis’ 17-year tenure as principal, Columbine has transformed into a highly personalized, caring environment that actively seeks to welcome and engage every member of the community—a reality whose prospects were dim in the difficult weeks following the well-publicized tragedy at the school in April 1999. DeAngelis prides himself on being visible and present to all in the school community, in part by dedicating at least an hour each day to being in classrooms. The climate provides a foundation for an effective, collaborative instructional program, in which Instructional Leaders in five core areas implement the school’s Unified Improvement Plan. Most recently, DeAngelis has led initiatives to focus on the academic needs of Columbine’s growing Latino population, and promotes writing across the curriculum—an element of schoolwide literacy that will be essential as schools implement the Common Core State Standards. While focusing on matters at home, DeAngelis still makes time to reach out to other schools touched by tragedy, most recently to school leaders in Sandy Hook, CT.

“When I walk the halls with Frank, staff and students delight in conversations with him,” said Jeffco Superintendent Cynthia Stevenson. “Every student seems to believe that he or she is the most important person in Columbine on that day. That attitude speaks to the climate that Frank has nurtured at Columbine.”

Sheila Harrity
Worcester Technical High School
Worcester, MA

Sheila Harrity, principal of Worcester Technical High School, in Worcester, MA, has been named a finalist in the 2014 MetLife/NASSP National Principal of the Year Program for her significant contributions to student achievement. Harrity assumed leadership of Worcester Tech in 2006, the year the school moved to a new, state-of-the-art facility. Harrity knew that the school’s previous problems with low performance would not go away without vision and leadership, and she quickly assembled an instructional leadership team. “Research shows you need to empower the staff to be part of the decision making process in order to be successful in the transformation of any school,” she said. During her seven years at Worcester Tech, Harrity has seen the graduation rate grow by 17 percentage points (from 79.3% in 2006 to 96.4% in 2012) and the dropout rate fall from 6.5% in 2006 to 1.5% in 2012. The school’s success, particularly in adopting Breaking Ranks reform to raise the academic performance of a high-poverty population, earned it designation as a MetLife Foundation-NASSP Breakthrough School in 2010.

“In her work to create an Innovation School, Principal Harrity demonstrated her ability to work with administrators, teachers and community members through complex technical and adaptive issues,” said Melinda J. Boone, superintendent of Worcester Public Schools. “Ultimately the success of the team was dependent upon the refined collaborative leadership skills of Mrs. Harrity.”

Brent Kline
Mariner High School
Everett, WA

Brent Kline, principal of Mariner High School in Everett, WA, has been named a finalist in the 2014 MetLife/NASSP National Principal of the Year Program for his significant contributions to student achievement. Kline was selected for his commitment to ensuring that the diverse population of students who enter the safe haven of Mariner High School receive a high-quality, personalized education from a cohesive team of educators who value and practice collaboration. Kline’s commitment to literacy and academic excellence have resulted in a 10-year increase in the percentage of students meeting standards in reading and writing—from 42% to 79.5% in writing and 46% to 89% in writing between 2002 and 2012. A similar dedication to math success has increased the percentage of students meeting algebra standards from 30% to 75% since 2009. Kline’s unwavering focus on professional development, particularly in aligning curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices, and diligence in engaging the community and parents to support students holistically has paid off.

“Brent is an outstanding high school principal by any measure. He is one of three principals piloting the Center of Education Leadership framework…and as a result, he is in the classrooms daily to collect evidence of student learning, promote quality teaching and learning, and provide focused and intentional feedback to teachers,” said Marci Larsen, superintendent of Mukilteo School District. “Teachers willing allow Brent to hone his skills in their classrooms because they trust him. This level of trust is pervasive throughout the school and community.”


The six finalists each received a $1,500 grant, which was used to promote the advancement of learning opportunities for students or other related investments such as capital improvements, the purchase of technology-related equipment, or funding specific educational programs.