2015 National Principal of the Year Finalists

The following six principals were selected as finalists for the 2015 NASSP National Principal of the Year award:

Jayne Ellspermann
West Port High School
Ocala, FL
@ellsperj

During her 10 years as West Port principal, Ellspermann has ushered in a pervasive college-going culture built on personalization. At West Port, lunchtime is “PowerHour,” a student empowerment initiative that Ellspermann launched to grant students autonomy over an hour of their school day for academic enrichment, open labs, clubs, and other creative opportunities. Three years of PowerHour has produced a more personalized and successful school environment: course failure has nearly disappeared, the graduation rate has risen 15 points, and participation in activities has increased from 10% to nearly 70%.  Ellspermann holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from the University of Florida.

David Essink
Hastings Middle School
Hastings, NE
@Dave_HMS

Reaching out to build supportive relationships is key to Essink’s leadership at Hastings Middle School. Teachers collaborate with him to make important decisions and every student has an adult advocate. Essink finds creative ways to get parents and community members into the building to interact with students. The collaborative and caring culture provides the foundation for consistent increases in achievement and led to the school’s 2014 designation as a MetLife Foundation-NASSP National Breakthrough School. Essink holds a bachelor’s degree in education and a Nebraska Assessment and Leadership Endorsement from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and master’s and specialist degrees in educational administration from the University of Nebraska-Kearney.

Susan Evans
Ridgely Middle School
Lutherville, MD
@SEvansRMS

Not content with Ridgely Middle School’s 2006 recognition as a National Blue Ribbon School, Evans led a year-long Classroom Focused Improvement Process to increase student achievement. Through the process, grade level and subject teachers meet during weekly common planning times to collaboratively examine common assessments and adjust teaching practices to stimulate greater student performance. The initiative has narrowed the achievement gap between the highest and lowest performing subgroups in state reading and math tests. Evans holds a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in secondary education from Towson University and a master’s degree in educational technologies from The Johns Hopkins University.

Rob Miller
Jenks Middle School
Jenks, OK
@jmsprincipal

An expert in quality principles, strategic planning, and the use of data to drive organizational improvement, Miller has led and maintained high levels of academic achievement, even in the face of increasing student populations from challenging circumstances. His experience in Quality Improvement Systems and Processes prompted Miller to assemble a group of key staff members to serve as the Site Performance Innovation Team. This team meets twice a month to track progress and evaluate processes to drive school improvement. Miller holds a bachelor’s degree in geology from Oregon State University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Southern Nazarene University. He has also completed coursework towards a doctorate in educational leadership at the University of Oklahoma.

Adam Mokelke
Burchell High School
Wasilla, AK
@amokelke

Empowered with a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, Mokelke has led the alternative Burchell High School to raise student achievement, reduce suspensions, and recover dropouts. A new blended learning model individualizes instruction and provides flexibility for at-risk youth, freeing students from traditional time-bound constraints of school. As a result, enrollment has nearly doubled in one year for a population that might have otherwise given up on their education. Mokelke holds a principal certification, superintendent certification, and a master’s degree in educational leadership, all from the University of Alaska at Anchorage.

Ronald Rowell
Theodore High School
Theodore, AL
@RonnieRowell

With a laser-like focus on 21st century learning, Rowell has lead the continuous improvement of Theodore High School over many years. Since the school’s designation as a MetLife Foundation-NASSP Breakthrough School in 2009 for maintaining high achievement despite the challenges of high poverty, Rowell has intensified efforts to meet the needs of a diverse population and reduce dropouts, while at the same time increasing the graduation rate nearly 15 points. Rowell holds a bachelor’s degree in health, physical education, and biology from the University of West Alabama, a master’s degree in secondary education from Alabama State University, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of South Alabama.


The six finalists were recognized during the State Principals of the Year Institute on September 7–10, 2014 for a series of professional development activities and meetings with their members of Congress. The finalists received their awards during a September 9, 2014 Capitol Hill luncheon, keynoted by Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA). Each finalist will received a $1,500 grant, which was used to improve learning at their school.