The role of the assistant principal has changed dramatically in recent years—today’s assistant principals are involved in all aspects of education, including curriculum development, research, personalization, and school-community relationships. The National Assistant Principal of the Year award winners stand out in their ability to excel in this ever-demanding role.

Since 2002, NASSP has recognized a National Assistant Principal of the Year.

2023 National Assistant Principal of the Year

Misa Sato

Reagan High School
Milwaukee, WI

Grades: 9-12
Students: 130
Region: Urban

As Assistant Principal of Reagan High School, Misa Sato is committed to creating a school culture grounded in respect and high expectations. Through her leadership, she prioritizes the well-being of students and staff, with students feeling valued and empowered in their contributions. Under her direction, Reagan has achieved significant gains in student achievement, receiving the Wisconsin RtI Center Gold Award in Reading, Behavior, and Math in both 2021 and 2022, with students surpassing state benchmarks on critical metrics. Additionally, the school’s International Baccalaureate Career Program has grown exponentially, with pathways in Health Science, Technology, and Education, serving 155 students, up from just seven before Misa’s tenure. As an IB Organization educator, Misa provides professional development to schools and supports program implementation. She holds a Master’s degree in Educational Policy and Leadership from Marquette University and an MBA in Educational Leadership from Milwaukee School of Engineering.

2022 National Assistant Principal of the Year

Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

Ashland Middle School
Ashland, OR

Grades: 6-8
Students: 467
Region: Rural

Katherine Holden moved Ashland Middle from traditional letter grades to a proficiency-based feedback system that helped students grow through precise and timely feedback. Holden guided her teachers through creating rubrics that are clear, explicit, and accessible to students, and engineering a schoolwide system which included development of new software to create a responsive gradebook. The data shows her work is leveling the playing field regardless of students’ race, gender, first language, socioeconomic status or support at home.

2021 National Assistant Principal of the Year

Chelsea Jennings

Lakeside Junior High School
Springdale, AR

Grades: 8–9
Students: 685
Region: Suburban

Arkansas has the highest rate of adverse childhood experiences in the nation at 60%. Trauma and stress often manifest as behavior problems, and if educators can learn to see these as calls for help and opportunities to teach missing skills, they have the ability to lessen the negative impact and create productive learning environments centered on well-being and safety. That’s why Chelsea Jennings is leading an initiative to make trauma-informed SEL interventions and resources accessible for every adult and student. Additionally, she has partnered with Ozark Guidance to expand school-based counseling services with an additional therapist and behavioral paraprofessional this year, doubling the amount of students receiving services. Each year, teachers submit a list of students they are struggling to reach and teach. The teachers go around together and list everything they know about each student. The information, or lack thereof, is always eye-opening. Teachers select one student to mentor for the year. Then, in meetings that include counselors and other school staff, they discuss the students and develop an action plan for interventions, services, and home visits. When students are in danger of slipping through the cracks, they work collaboratively as a “triage” team.

2020 National Assistant Principal of the Year

Debra Paradowski

Arrowhead Union High School
Hartland, WI

Grades: 9–12
Students: 2,139
Region: Rural

Three years ago, I started a student-centered group called Students Leaving a Mark (SLAM) to improve our school culture. By giving students a voice in our school’s routines, they were empowered, engaged, and became confident learners. Opportunities were created for students to demonstrate leadership skills and guide our school in the right direction. Students made decisions about topics they wanted to address and outlined their action steps. In a short time, the SLAM students had a direct impact on our school’s culture by adding murals in the hallways and positive messages on the stairwells. They painted the walls in study hall, renovated the staff lunchroom, and created meaningful ways to recognize student and staff excellence. Overall, we have observed an increase in positive behavior, attendance, academic accomplishments, and pride in our school.