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 will select one middle level and one high school principal to represent their state. State winners are selected from applications submitted to the state associations.

Each state’s selection process and deadlines vary. Application information for each state may be found by contacting your state affiliate.

2021 State Principals of the Year

2021 Alabama Principal of the Year

Ron Pinson

Chilton County High School
Clanton, AL

Grades: 9–12
Students: 806
Region: Rural

  • Encouraging community and parental involvement
  • Facilitating student success and achievements through student-led programs

Building a positive culture that is centered around community and parental involvement has been my greatest success as a principal. By introducing programs such as Open Door Wednesday, Senior Led Conferences, Senior Blitz (mock interviews), academic recognition ceremonies, and student character awards, I have bridged the gap between our community, parents, and our school. This has helped encourage higher student achievement, which contributed to a 5-point increase on our state report card score in one year, as well as an increase from 19% to 44% in math proficiency. Families are encouraged to be present and involved through these programs. Also, members of the community are often called upon to share their expertise, which gives students a chance to see and hear real-world testimonies. The climate and culture of the school has changed significantly due to these outreach programs. In the end, it is always about what’s best for the kids!

2021 Alaska Principal of the Year

Robin Jones

Chief Ivan Blunka School
New Stuyahok, AK

Grades: preK–12
Students: 150
Region: Rural

  • Relationship building
  • Self-care

The most important way I lead learning is by modeling balance. I prioritize building quality relationships with all my staff members and strive to inspire them to put their heart and soul into providing the best possible education within the school environment—while also encouraging them to participate in activities that rejuvenate their heart and soul outside of school. I have led countless professional learning communities to help my staff and principals across the state identify and employ practices that promote self-care, accountability, reflection, and growth to help people understand the importance of not only taking care of themselves, but also creating positive environments where people want to take care of each other. I model engagement and balance with my staff because I recognize that anything you can do as a principal to strengthen support systems will ultimately lead to increased teacher retention and student opportunities.

2021 Arizona Principal of the Year

Teresa M. Hill

Walden Grove High School
Sahuarita, AZ

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,113
Region: Rural

  • Creating a positive school climate and culture
  • Embedding inclusivity on campus

One of my biggest successes as a high school principal is advocating for the LGBTQ+ community in our school. Through a partnership with the Queer-Straight Alliance club on campus, we provide professional development to our staff. Each year, new teachers learn key LGBTQ+ language. In addition, our staff participates in a yearly workshop that involves a panel of current LGBTQ+ students who share their experiences in school and help develop strategies for teachers to make their classrooms more inclusive. In talking to my staff, district administration, and governing board members, I stand on the fact that as educators, we can believe whatever we want, but we have an obligation to provide a safe environment for ALL students. By supporting this group of students, the other minority groups on campus understand they too are safe and supported. As a result, the Walden Grove community is rich in diversity and acceptance.

2021 Arkansas Principal of the Year

Jay Dostal

Fayetteville High School
Fayetteville, AR

Grades: 9–12
Students: 2,700
Region: Urban

  • Technology tools for administrators
  • Building school culture

My success as a principal is directly tied to the success of my teachers and students. One of the best examples of this success lies in the work our school is doing with equity. Our school district has a strategic plan goal to identify inequities and inconsistencies in providing equal opportunities for all students, including increased advanced course enrollment by underrepresented populations. By partnering with Equal Opportunities Schools, we have made an intentional effort to increase participation in AP coursework by students of color. Additionally, we have focused on restorative practices to address disproportionality in our student discipline. Finally, we have made a concerted effort to hire teachers who are representative of our diverse population. Overall, as a school, we are committed to addressing unconscious bias that exists so that all our students have an equitable and inclusive learning environment.

2021 California Principal of the Year

Margaret Nichols

Kerman Middle School
Kerman, CA

Grades: 7–8
Students: 810
Region: Rural

  • Career tech education
  • Staff leadership

I am thankful for the people who saw leadership potential in me and helped cultivate it. I believe strongly that this is one of the most important parts of my job—to develop student and staff leaders. For my students, I have expanded our leadership class to two periods and have brought in a speaker who focuses on the social-emotional health of leaders. Other leadership opportunities for students include an athletic leadership class, student body officers, and the California Cadet Corps club. I started a leadership group for staff that has challenged and stretched their thinking and focused their actions on serving others. This has been evident—as they have flourished as leaders on campus. I count this as one of my greatest success stories, as a strong group of leaders sets the foundation for the learning and culture of the campus.

2021 Colorado Principal of the Year

Ryan T. Silva

Cherry Creek High School
Greenwood Village, CO

Grades: 9–12
Students: 3,827
Region: Suburban

  • Community engagement
  • Safety

Cherry Creek High School has close to 4,000 students and provides many opportunities for them to learn and grow. It is a school that has a reputation for preparing students for college and life after high school. Yet, with over 100 courses and over 300 educators, it was necessary to have a structure in place that would provide all students with an equitable experience regardless of who the teacher is and the period the course is taught. I formed a committee of teachers to work with me in designing a plan for professional learning teams. Each year there are over 70 teams structured by course, each with a teacher leader who plans the weekly meeting. The teachers discuss goals, planning, assessments, grading, and more. The teams have helped improve instruction and learning—and have served as a perfect forum for mentoring of new teachers.

2021 Delaware Principal of the Year

Evelyn A. Edney

Early College High School at Delaware State University
Dover, DE

Grades: 9–12
Students: 425
Region: Suburban

  • Organization
  • Communication and advocacy

I believe in connectivity and absolutely love being in school and especially around young people. My passion is school climate and trying to get students to realize that they oversee their education and use their special talents to become good citizens. In my current school, I continue to hold high standards by creating the College Readiness Rubric, a tool that enables students to work on skills needed to become college ready and take college-level courses. It is streamlined into the Positive Behavior Support Program of Hornet P.R.I.D.E., so that the onus of their education is on the student. I am expanding the school to add a middle level division, so that students can begin the college-going culture earlier and to cultivate the ability to do college-level work. Grades 7 and 8 will begin in Fall 2022.

2021 DODEA Principal of the Year

James Strait

Kubasaki High School, FPO
AP, Japan

Grades: 9–12
Students: 550
Region: Urban

  • Being a fair leader
  • Leading by example

I have experience building school cultures that have persevered through advisersity. When I was principal of Ramey Unit School in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017, leaving behind chaos and making how my team educated students a bit challenging. My staff, students, and community persevered with limited power, water, and internet. During that year, 64% of students scored 3 or higher on the AP exams and we had a 100% graduation rate. Amid a global pandemic, students in the Pacific had to take their AP exams in the middle of the night by Japan standard time. I had to set the conditions for their success when there was frustration over the virtual conduct of tests. Kubasaki had more AP students and those students took more tests per capita, with a higher percentage of them scoring 3+, than any other time in the last five years.

2021 DOSOS Principal of the Year

Amy Greene

American Community School of Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Grades: K–12
Students: 1,200
Region: Urban

  • Advisory programs
  • Facilitation

We ensure our work is aligned with our school’s vision and mission and remain knowledgeable about students’ ever-changing needs. As a result, we have created systems to ensure we are informed and responsive practitioners. A recent example is a shift of roles and responsibilities within our counseling team. While the transition from middle level to high school represents an important milestone, it can also be a time of disorientation and disconnection for some. After watching our grade 9 students approach this transition with varying degrees of success, we restructured the Counseling Team to create a dedicated grade 8/9 counselor who offers targeted support to students, teachers, and families. This position allows us to better identify the needs of our youngest students and in some cases, our most vulnerable. After the first year of this position, we introduced a comprehensive advisory program that “rolls up” with students each year.

2021 DOSOS Principal of the Year

Jeff Farrington

International School of Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Grades: 9–12
Students: 640
Region: Urban

  • Teacher supervision
  • Standards based assessment

With a philosophy rooted in the needs of each student, my role is to ensure a focus on student development and achievement, implementing innovative strategies that maximize the achievements of each learner. The most transformational school initiative of my career has been the move to standards-based assessment. As a school community that values learning, standards-based assessment means that our system prioritizes growth, student confidence, and accuracy. Our high school now uses a seven-point grading scale and reporting domains with clearly defined performance descriptors for each level. Teachers now align feedback mechanisms to accurately reflect learning progress, which in turn fuels optimism and motivation in students and fosters confidence in their ability to succeed. We removed averaging scores, relying on more accurate professional judgment from the teacher based on the most recent and relevant learning evidence. Our standards-based assessment practices are now focused on learning, not on grading.

2021 DOSOS Principal of the Year

Kate McKenna

International School Nido de Aguilas
Santiago, Chile

Grades: 9–12
Students: 490
Region: Suburban

  • Strategic planning
  • Mental health and wellbeing in schools

In my first year as high school principal, we examined our grade 9 program as a way of evaluating freshman success and transition. We met with teachers and counselors, and  together we brainstormed all the things that ninth graders could be exploring to promote high school success. Ultimately, we designed a yearlong class—The First Year Seminar—that all ninth graders now take. Topics explored are personal and global health, study skills, mindfulness, design, and technology. We use certain curricular standards from Shape Health, ISTE, and .B (dot-be) from the Mindfulness in School Project. We also teach all ninth-grade students design thinking frameworks that center upon human-centered design processes. These design thinking models can then be applied to other courses in their high school experience. Students work collaboratively and approach topics with creativity; ultimately, they make authentic connections to their lives and seek to positively shape and impact our community.

2021 Florida Principal of the Year

Jen Halter

Green Cove Springs Junior High
Green Cove Springs, FL

Grades: 7–8
Students: 800
Region: Suburban

  • Climate and culture
  • Data driven decision making

Believing all students will achieve at the highest levels, I lead professional learning and data meetings focused on school faculty knowing every student’s academic needs and creating time during the school day for targeted remediation in math. Collectively, the staff decided on a required weekly, hourlong remediation program, Cougar Nation. Teachers strategically placed students at the level of skill they begin to need remediation. With Cougar Nation in place, students grew in overall math learning gains by 5% and in lower quartile learning gains by 17%. Specifically, 83% of students from the struggling feeder school, where most students are lower quartile students, made learning gains. Through targeted support and adapting instructional practice to more targeted needs of students, adults began to see great learning gains from their students. This success has created an urgency and a commitment to continue Cougar Nation every year.

2021 Georgia Principal of the Year

Keith L. Ball

Marietta High School
Marietta, GA

Grades: 9–12
Students: 2,500
Region: Suburban

  • Resilience
  • Creativity

As the fourth principal in five years, our school never met the state graduation rate or earned above a “C” on the state report card. In my first semester as principal, I guided the school in adopting our mission, values, and commitments. They guided our retention and hiring practices and helped build out 24 committees to increase schoolwide capacity. My expanded leadership team, intentionally designed professional learning communities, and Rigor and Relevance Committee created our instructional framework and trained staff to execute Cognia’s eleot 2.0 training certification. Professional development and student course offerings were reexamined to ensure what we provided was impactful. Finances were made transparent and simplified to provide staff and students the materials they needed in a timely manner. Marietta High School finally earned a state report grade of “B” in 2019 and, in 2020, earned the highest graduation rate in the school’s 128-year history.

2021 Hawaii Principal of the Year

Reid Kuba

Jarrett Middle School
Honolulu, HI

Grades: 6–8
Students: 278
Region: Suburban

  • Establishing private partnerships
  • Working with low-SES/immigrant families

Jarrett Middle School serves two Section 8 housing complexes and has, on average, 75% of the population receiving free and reduced-price lunch. I always strive to leave a place better than when I got there. This includes living a life that is not ordinary, but extraordinary. This simple mantra is passed on to faculty and students. I stress that it’s not good enough to push for a year’s growth when our kids come to us below proficiency. Our kids would still be behind at the end of the year. We strive for extraordinary and have the data to back that up. Two years of zero fights on a middle level campus with other years having fewer than three. The only middle level school on O’ahu to perform above their academic and low-socioeconomic status potential for the past five years. I thank my faculty and students for not accepting ordinary and striving for extraordinary.

2021 Iowa Principal of the Year

Brian Downing

Okoboji High School
Milford, IA

Grades: 9–12
Students: 350
Region: Rural

  • Mentoring new/aspiring principals
  • Integrating technology/social media as an education leader

One of the things I am most proud of is the culture we have created and sustain in our high school. We regularly get new students who either move into the area or transfer from another school. I check in with them regularly throughout their first few weeks, and after a while I ask what the biggest difference is between Okoboji High School and where they were before. Without fail, every response is focused on the teachers showing that they care and the students being accepting and open. With all the pressures facing our kids today, the foundational aspect of a successful school experience must be making students feel safe, supported, and that they matter.

2021 Idaho Principal of the Year

Roger I. Keller

Magic Valley High School
Twin Falls, ID

Grades: 9–12
Students: 175
Region: Urban

  • Collaborative leader
  • Good listener

The students at Magic Valley High School have two levels of learning needs. First is a more general need as evidenced by their grades and achievement levels upon enrollment. Second is for students who have not been successful in traditional schools; they need a change in environment, they need a different approach to education, and they need a clean slate—all of which they receive at Magic Valley High School. Our schedule provides a more focused approach to courses. Students take three classes a day for approximately six weeks. Class size is limited to 18 students, which allows both the teacher and student an opportunity to get to know each other. This relationship helps the instructor personalize their instruction to the specific needs of the student. The difference in environment and approach results in more success for students, allows for recognition at a quicker rate, and promotes a feeling of self-worth for the students.

2021 Illinois Principal of the Year

Andy Robert Stumpf

Winchester Grade School
Winchester, IL

Grades: PreK–8
Students: 400
Region: Rural

  • Building a positive culture
  • Creating a leadership team

In the fall of 2017, my third year at Winchester Grade School (WGS), we received an “underperforming” rating from the Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR) results. Our IEP subgroup had tested in the bottom 10% of the state. Though the rating was disappointing, it led to deep reflection and the implementation of necessary change. In January 2018, I invited five teachers to join me in creating the WGS Building Leadership Team (BLT). This team was tasked with creating a school improvement plan, implementing buildingwide curriculum changes, and creating professional learning communities. Additionally, our BLT helped develop a strategic plan for the district, outlining mission and vision statements and core values from which to focus our efforts. Growing from our deficits, we were able to successfully move our IAR rating from “underperforming” to “commendable” in just one year. The motto of WGS, “Stronger Together,” has now become the driving force for our success.

2021 Indiana Principal of the Year

Crystal Murff Thorpe

Fishers Junior High School
Fishers, IN

Grades: 7–8
Students: 935
Region: Suburban

  • Building relationships
  • Developing leadership in others

In 2007, I became the first Black principal at Fishers Junior High School (FJH). After meeting with staff, I learned there was a harmful stigma associated with FJH due to negative perceptions regarding our high minority enrollment and socioeconomic status in this affluent suburban district. It was deemed the “ghetto” school, and many parents did not want to send their children. A marketing director helped staff change the narrative so people could learn the reality of amazing things happening at our school. Newsletters highlighted our teachers, programs, and opportunities we provided students. Professional development on diversity, equity, and inclusion was presented. Staff learned ALL students need high expectations and good relationships to be successful. Academic and discipline data were reviewed, addressed, and improved upon. We changed the culture and mindset of staff and the community. By 2018, FJH had the most requests for transfers to attend due to our transformed culture.

2021 Kansas Principal of the Year

Kristen Craft

Andover High School
Andover, KS

Grades: 9–12
Students: 941
Region: Suburban

  • Educational leadership coaching and why its important
  • Staff appreciation and school culture

The biggest impact we made with our students’ learning was through our student improvement team, which was essential during the pandemic and hybrid model. As a result of this collaboration, 88% of our most at-risk students attended full time, and less than 10% of our total students failed one or more courses. We developed an extension of learning for 15 students with 55% and higher, with all completing needed learning for credit by March 2021. Our honor roll increased from 52.7% in 2019 to 55% in 2021, as did our state test scores in math and reading. We also implemented the Andover Trojan Advantage prototype, identifying six students in a significant credit deficit. We selected four core teachers who have a history of positive relationships to teach every student individually the first four periods; all the students earned at least seven credits, getting them back on track to graduate.

2021 Kentucky Principal of the Year

Robby Asberry

Ohio County High School
Hartford, KY

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,189
Region: Rural

  • Transition readiness
  • Culture

Under my leadership, Ohio County High School (OCHS) improved its college and career readiness and ACT scores every year. In the last two assessment years, OCHS finished as the No. 1 academic school in their region. OCHS also finished in the top 25 in the state in transition readiness and top 50 in overall accountability. OCHS was named a national finalist for the College Success Gold Award. This award celebrates schools that have a multiyear track record of preparing students to succeed in college.

2021 Louisiana Principal of the Year

Jerel Bryant

George Washington Carver High School
New Orleans, LA

Grades: 9–12
Students: 800
Region: Urban

  • Building adult culture
  • Teacher development

In 2016, we merged two schools into today’s George Washington Carver High School. The process involved vision, innovation, and collaboration across myriad stakeholders. It presented an opportunity to bring two schools with shared histories under one roof, in one historic community. In the six weeks prior to the merger, the team spent time aligning on our vision, core values, and beliefs. We followed a familiar sequence of learning, practicing, and committing to each other as adults for the benefit of children. Our process was rooted in our belief that adult culture is the ceiling for scholar culture. From there, we revised systems and procedures across culture and academics with this spirit in mind: Even as our school doubled, we were determined to continue accelerating both academic progress and the heart that compels us to truly see every scholar.

2021 Maine Principal of the Year

Jaime Carroll Stone

Camden Rockport Middle School
Camden, ME

Grades: 5–8
Students: 400
Region: Rural

  • Developing positive staff culture
  • Strategic implementation of new initiatives

My staff has worked to implement project-based learning (PBL) over the past five years. Quality professional learning experiences have allowed our educators to develop their individual and collective vision of PBL in action. Through book studies, school visits, protocol use, instructional coaching, and strong reflective practices, we have reframed our curriculum and instruction to focus more intensely on arts/music/tech/family consumer science and content integration. Key instructional shifts have included increased staff and student collaboration and leadership, student choice, inquiry, student product work, scaffolded assessments, and place-based learning experiences. It has been a rigorous and collaborative journey that has transformed not only what we teach but how we teach. My students and staff success are truly interdependent. We have simultaneously shifted curriculum and instruction while strengthening our collective culture at CRMS. Through this work, our staff has become Crew, and our school is an engaging place to work and learn.

2021 Maryland Principal of the Year

Taiisha Swinton-Buck

Digital Harbor High School
Baltimore, MD

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,300
Region: Urban

  • Equity and anti-racism
  • Technology integration and innovation

I have created a robust and vibrant Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) system at Digital Harbor. Suspensions have decreased and attendance has increased by 10%. The backbone of this system is “connection before content.” From greeting all students at the front doors every day to attending sporting events and including students in my viral TikTok videos, I have worked incredibly hard to develop relationships with all my students. From there, the incentive system that I have created to support the PBIS program is based on the needs and interests of the students at Digital Harbor. A prime example is the Digital Ram Hair Studio. Students want to look good for school, but frequently they are unable to afford the cost. Students are excited to earn “Digital Dollars” to pay for their haircuts. Students are also able to “buy” field trip experiences and entrance to sporting events.

2021 Massachusetts Principal of the Year

Ted McCarthy

Sutton High School
Sutton, MA

Grades: 9–12
Students: 375
Region: Suburban

  • DEI topics aimed at a white audience
  • Starting/sustaining an internship program for seniors

One of our biggest successes at Sutton High School has been our Connections Team. Every year, Connections—a group of students and staff committed to social justice—facilitate a six-week series of anti-racist/anti-bias workshops to all our ninth graders so they know our community’s culture and values. The Connections Team also provides professional development for our high school staff and training and consultation for other schools looking to start this work in their own communities. In 2019, we hosted our first “Connections Conference,” a social justice conference for students and teachers from across Massachusetts. After hearing the keynote address from Dr. Bettina Love, participants attended workshops facilitated by college professors and nonprofit organizations focused on a variety of social justice topics. This year, despite COVID-19, we hosted a virtual conference with over 700 participants from all over New England.

2021 Michigan Principal of the Year

Joseph Greene

North Farmington High School
Farmington Hills, MI

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,256
Region: Suburban

  • Instructional design
  • Systems thinking

I have helped North Farmington High School achieve powerful student outcomes by building a system where teachers meet in course-alike professional learning teams (PLTs) to design instructional experiences and multi-school professional learning communities to evaluate best practices/interventions. Standards are broken down into clear, student-friendly learning targets that become the focus of student-centered, collaborative learning experiences and the basis of common summative assessments. PLTs integrate frequent formative assessments to gather data and provide timely feedback to students. Homework, now considered ungraded practice, is tailored to feedback and student needs. This information is used to prepare students for summative assessments, which students can retake after targeted practice and/or review with teachers during weekly instructional support time. This system has increased student autonomy, diminished our failure rate to 3% a semester, achieved some of the highest average SAT scores in Michigan, and led to student postsecondary entrance, persistence, and completion rates that significantly outperform the state and nation.

2021 Minnesota Principal of the Year

Scott Gengler

Wayzata High School
Plymouth, MN

Grades: 9–12
Students: 3,700
Region: Suburban

  • Structuring/developing personalized student support teams
  • School-to-home communication strategies

The culture at Wayzata High School is shaped by our school’s purpose: Each student will graduate prepared for postsecondary success, regardless of race, class, gender, or ability. In other words, our achievement data will not be predictable by these indicators. Over time, this purpose has essentially become the “Wayzata Promise.” A promise, shared by all staff, to ensure that each student is afforded an opportunity to learn and grow in a safe, secure, nurturing, and supportive environment that will prepare them for postsecondary success. We support this work by adhering to a shared model of leadership and decision-making among all our stakeholders, and we follow the motto, “We’re here for you.” These two factors alone help to ensure we are understanding, developing, and fostering meaningful relationships and positive experiences for all students, families, and staff of the Wayzata High School community, which ultimately defines our school culture.

2021 Mississippi Principal of the Year

Helen Hoggatt Price

Oak Grove High School
Hattiesburg, MS

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,768
Region: Suburban

  • Setting up schools for success
  • Tutoring and remediation within the school day

With the steady growth of our student population, consistently changing demographics, and the strength of our newfound diversity, we had to find new ways to lead in learning as we expected to in our school and community. We were determined to maintain equity despite our growing pains reflected in our numbers and our facility. We decided to do a complete overhaul of who was teaching what and where in the building. We made what we call four schools-within-a-school (SWS) based on each grade level to include their subjects needed, so their classes and teachers were strategically placed in certain areas of the building. Within each SWS, they had their own assistant principal, counselor, lead teacher, and secretaries. The SWS approach developed a family-type identity and space for students to flourish in the opportunities we offered them, rather than getting lost in the chaos of it all.

2021 Missouri Principal of the Year

Beth Houf

Fulton Middle School
Fulton, MO

Grades: 6–8
Students: 500
Region: Rural

  • School culture
  • Implementing PLCs

Taking continual time to build and maintain relationships with students, staff, and families is crucial to building a strong school culture that promotes high levels of learning for all. As leaders, we truly set the tone for the building we serve. What we model is what we teach. Taking time to greet staff and students each morning, being not only visible throughout the day but engaging with all those that you serve, is imperative. Never underestimate the impact of your words and your example. Take time to check in on staff and support as needed. Our ability to do what is best for kids hinges on our ability to support, motivate, and inspire the adults in our building so that they can best support our students. Strong relationships build strong culture. Strong culture is a foundation for leading learning.

2021 Montana Principal of the Year

Jake Haynes

Frenchtown High School
Frenchtown, MT

Grades: 9–12
Students: 485
Region: Rural

  • Building relationships
  • Staff hiring

When I became a principal, it was my goal to create a positive and student-centered culture to raise achievement while expanding our course offerings. The positive cultural and climate shift has happened at the high school. Allowing students, parents, and community members to have a voice has led to instrumental positive changes. We currently have the highest graduation rate among Class A schools in the state. We have also increased our course offerings. When I became principal, we offered one AP course. Through student feedback and staff hires, we now offer 13 AP courses and have partnered with our local university to offer a broad range of dual credit courses including certificate programs. This past year we had a student graduate with 36 college credits. The improvement is directly related to importance we have placed on individual relationships throughout our community.

2021 Nebraska Principal of the Year

Patrick Moore

Blue Hill Community Schools
Blue Hill, NE

Grades: 7–12
Students: 150
Region: Rural

  • Streamlining school social media presence
  • Building culture in a K–12 building

At Blue Hill High School, our staff understands students and their needs. Four years ago, our teachers recognized a few needs in our school: nourishment on the weekend for our kids and student apathy toward academics. As a result, our school began our own Backpack Program and 9th Hour Study Hall (held after school). With the Backpack Program, our teachers identified community leaders to help bridge the gap with fundraising and even clothing. Since its inception, our Backpack Program has served our students over 18,000 meals, has been 100% community fundraised, and has had an emotional, environmental, and social impact for our kids, teachers, and community members. Our 9th Hour Study Hall is a chance for students who need academic support to get help from teachers after school. During this time, our teachers have developed bonds and relationships with students to help them understand content and experience success academically.

2021 Nevada Principal of the Year

Kevin Carroll

Sparks High School
Sparks, NV

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,200
Region: Urban

  • Transformative and servant leadership style
  • PLC process

In 2013, I was asked to become the principal of Sparks High School (SHS). We were the only high school in our district to enter the new Acceleration Zone where 13 schools were placed and deemed “turnaround” schools. SHS needed leadership that was going to rebuild a positive culture. My vision was for us to become a model professional learning community (PLC) to help improve low staff morale which would, in turn, increase low graduation rates and student credit attainment. As we went through the stages of becoming a high-functioning PLC, we kept reminding ourselves to trust the process and work as a team to reach our vision. In 2017, SHS was internationally recognized as a model PLC school. Our graduation rates have increased over 20% and our yearly climate survey showed 92% of staff enjoys coming to school every day, up from 62% in 2013.

2021 New Jersey Principal of the Year

Kwame R. Morton, Sr.

Cherry Hill Public Schools
Cherry Hill, NJ

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,355
Region: Suburban

  • Restorative practices
  • Strategic planning and systems thinking

I am most proud of a unique partnership that I have formed with the Cherry Hill Chief of Police, William Monaghan. An examination of disciplinary referrals over time revealed disproportionate rates of referrals for children of color. These data aligned with national trends and led to a deep examination and discussion of the impacts of race, gender, and socioeconomic status on student achievement. It was clear that we needed to alter our policies on schoolwide discipline from one rooted in punitive measures to one rooted in restorative measures. We worked together with the police department to create a program focused on restorative healing practices for students with disciplinary infractions that included mindfulness, mentoring, activity engagement, and psychoeducational classes. The program focused on restorative healing practices that are more holistic in nature and that take into consideration the role that human development and community play in the drivers of youth delinquency.

2021 New Hampshire Principal of the Year

Stephen Paterson

Kearsarge Regional Middle School
North Sutton, NH

Grades: 6–8
Students: 400
Region: Rural

  • Establishing a vision
  • Leading by example

In 2020–21, Kearsarge Regional Middle School, like many schools across the country, was forced to reinvent itself. I involved teacher leaders in the process and framed decisions about what was needed to support students and families after full remote learning in the spring of 2020. The increased safety protocols and reduced planning time during the day were incredibly demanding on teachers and staff. To complicate matters, there were no substitutes available to cover absences, forcing all of us to be substitutes. I was able to support teachers by covering as many classes as I could and walking the building throughout the day, listening, acknowledging the challenges, and focusing on our students. Although it pushed us to the breaking point, we successfully met the challenges of the year, kept the school open for in-person learning all year, offered a rich learning experience for all our students, and strengthened our professional culture.

2021 New York Principal of the Year

Daniel Walh

Transit Middle School
East Amherst, NY

Grades: 5–8
Students: 900
Region: Suburban

  • Importance of systems thinking and coherence
  • Modeling leadership and seeing the potential in others

Our decision-making team of parents, teachers, and administrators implemented a cultural exploration activity. The goal was to increase cultural awareness and highlight the diverse aspects of students’ past and present heritage. We learned that our students’ ancestry represents 88 different countries. Our students come from homes that speak 35 different languages, and our students have lived in 41 states across the United States and 34 different countries around the world. This data was used to create three floor-to-ceiling displays in the school’s foyer with the flags of our ancestors’ countries of origin, a “welcome” message in all 35 languages, along with U.S. and world maps marked with the locations where our students have lived. We believe building a sense of appreciation and empathy among students will help them value the unique story of their peers and strengthen dispositions around culture and identity moving forward.

2021 North Carolina Principal of the Year

Lori M. Fox

Haywood Early College
Clyde, NC

Grades: 9–13
Students: 185
Region: Rural

  • Building school culture
  • Implementing technology initiatives

I envisioned and implemented an Apple technology initiative that revolutionized learning for our teachers and students. To nurture innovative world-changers, our students must be fully invested and engaged in learning. This level of engagement requires outlets for creativity and the freedom to explore classroom content in unconventional ways. The array of applications and technologies available to our students and faculty has allowed us to create student-driven learning environments that promote student investment through choice and creativity. We believe we are preparing our students to be thinkers, designers, and communicators on the world stage. Students build traditional reading, writing, and problem-solving skills in fresh ways for topics that they choose using whatever tools work best for their needs, in the style of true innovators. As a result of this initiative, Haywood Early College has risen to new heights academically, increasing every accountability model measure and exceeding growth each year.

2021 North Dakota Principal of the Year

Jennifer Fremstad

West Fargo High School
West Fargo, ND

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,450
Region: Urban

  • Strategic planning
  • Motivation

Being active in the North Dakota Association of Secondary School Principals has provided opportunities to lead learning in North Dakota. I worked closely with a group of state leaders to design our state ESSA plan that significantly changed how we measure student and school success. Collaborating with educational leaders as well as state lawmakers, we used measurements in student performance that go beyond standardized assessments. The North Dakota Choice Ready Matrix is a roadmap that outlines pathways for students to demonstrate readiness in three categories: College Readiness, Workforce Readiness, and Military Readiness. We believe that students should demonstrate readiness in two categories prior to graduation so they have choices beyond high school. Indicators for success are no longer test scores but require volunteer service, technology skills, and dispositions that are needed to be successful in life. This work has become the foundation for our state scholarship and students now have a better understanding of postsecondary options.

2021 Ohio Principal of the Year

Peter J. Cole

Carey Middle/High School
Carey, OH

Grades: 6–12
Students: 450
Region: Rural

  • Building relationships
  • Leveraging talent

As a leader, I tend to lean on three simple truths about school culture: 1) Relationships matter first and foremost; 2) Create a climate that encourages everyone to contribute to improvement and success; and 3) Never view yourself as the “Lead Doer,” but rather as the “Lead Motivator,” “Lead Cheerleader,” “Lead Listener,” and “Lead Comforter.”  Each day that I can walk around our school building and see these ideals in action—transforming educational opportunities, changing perspectives, creating individual and collaborative successes, and encouraging young people and adults alike to be active participants in the world around them—I believe that I have experienced my own personal success. Seeing empowerment, engagement, and ownership each day in staff and students is success enough for me. There can never be a ME without the WE.

2021 Oklahoma Principal of the Year

Melissa Barlow

Yukon High School
Yukon, OK

Grades: 9–12
Students: 2,551
Region: Suburban

  • School-day intervention programs
  • Building student support teams

I have led efforts at Yukon High School in creating a sense of belonging for all. Not only have I continued this momentum during the difficult days of hybrid offerings, but also my efforts have molded one of Oklahoma’s largest high schools into smaller, supportive groups. Students are placed with teams of administrators and counselors to create a community, providing students and families with a single connection to their school. Administrative and counselor teams meet weekly to discuss individual students who are at risk academically, emotionally, and in other areas. Together they, with the at-risk counselor (a position I introduced), are able to determine resources that match the needs of students. The school’s commitment to trauma-informed strategies also enables students to form continuous connections with caring adults during their secondary educational experience. These efforts have led to an annually increasing attendance rate above 94% and graduation rate improvement to 96%.

2021 Oregon Principal of the Year

Amy Skirvin

Waldport Middle and High School
Waldport, OR

Grades: 7–12
Students: 299
Region: Rural

  • Collaborative leadership
  • School culture

I have shown effective leadership in guiding stakeholders during COVID-19 challenges for schools. I led my staff through a book study with the “Distance Learning Playbook for Teachers”. Additionally, I held weekly Zoom meetings to lead a book study for parents with “Distance Learning Playbook for Parents” to help them with resources and techniques to support their children during comprehensive distant learning (CDL). During the book studies, I modeled instructional strategies and developed an understanding of current educational strategies guiding staff and families to better serve the needs of their students and children. I collaborated with teachers and parents and listened to what their needs were throughout CDL. I taught myself how to use the appropriate technology so I could support teachers, parents, and students. I demonstrated empathy, understanding, and communicated with all stakeholders and was able to establish trust throughout COVID-19.

2021 Pennsylvania Principal of the Year

Harrison Bailey III

Liberty High School
Bethlehem, PA

Grades: 9–12
Students: 2,800
Region: Urban

  • Trauma
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion

Over three years ago, our school committed to becoming trauma informed. We formed a comprehensive committee and quickly realized that while we were bombarding our students with numerous academic interventions, we were not dealing with their extensive mental health and wellness needs. As a result, we designed a multitiered approach to help our entire school community understand the way toxic stress affects the brains and bodies of children. Following professional development, we knew we had to address these vast needs. Unfortunately, our ability to provide mental health services was far from adequate. We designed a wellness center that would dedicate a safe space for social workers and occupational therapists to provide these services. At that point, I campaigned for the funding with our superintendent, met with multiple legislators, and presented on trauma everywhere I could. As a result, we secured a major grant and now have a fully functioning wellness center.

2021 Rhode Island Principal of the Year

Deborah J. DiBiase

Mt. Hope High School
Bristol, RI

Grades: 9–12
Students: 980
Region: Suburban

  • Building a strong climate and culture
  • Empowering teachers and students to be leaders of learning

I empower students and adults as leaders by fostering shared leadership and ownership, providing opportunities for leadership, and having faith and trust in them. A schoolwide self-study resulted in the need to redesign our student learner expectations (LEs) to support student success in a fast-changing, globally competitive society. I asked two teachers to lead a committee in the work. They researched, presented ideas to the staff, received feedback and not only redesigned our LEs but created an entire system (The Big 3), which included a plan to integrate the LEs into curriculum, instruction, and assessment; a method to measure proficiency; and a multi-year gradual implementation plan with ongoing support and professional learning. I provided time for ongoing coaching/support and collaboration and prioritized the training. Three years later, our Big 3 Les—communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving—are now fully adopted and embraced by our entire school community.

2021 South Carolina Principal of the Year

Gerald Gary

Dutch Fork High School
Irmo, SC

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,661
Region: Suburban

  • Culture
  • Professional development

A review of data highlighted the fact that nonwhite students were severely underrepresented in our STEM program, and efforts were made to increase recruitment of these students. By utilizing the AP Potential report to identify students and creating a system to support them, we saw cosmic gains of 750% in this program. In 2017, 2% of students who were admitted into the program were African American, and by 2020, that number had increased to 17%. During this same time, Dutch Fork High School administered 1,380 AP exams with a 79% pass rate. Additionally, minority enrollment in AP courses increased by 15% that year while the graduation class received more than $71,000,000 in scholarships.

2021 South Dakota Principal of the Year

Mathew Raba

Belle Fourche High School
Belle Fourche, SD

Grades: 9–12
Students: 470
Region: Rural

  • Building relationships with students, parents, and staff
  • Coaching and mentoring teachers that are new to the profession

Until 2015, Belle Fourche High School was limited to a handful of stationary and mobile computer labs. I pushed hard to find a device for each of my students that was affordable and would allow them to build 21st-century skills. Belle Fourche High School became a 1:1 laptop school and employed the use of a learning management system, which allowed us to say “yes” to nearly every learning opportunity a student could find. Students are now able to take part in customized learning coursework, dual credit coursework, and are becoming proficient in digital citizenship and communication skills. The deployment of laptops for all students has also boosted the effectiveness of career and technical education coursework in the areas of business, computer-aided drafting, manufacturing, agriculture, and family and consumer science.

2021 Tennessee Principal of the Year

Autumn O’Bryan

Cleveland High School
Cleveland, TN

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,800
Region: Suburban

  • Tiered behavior interventions
  • Creating a positive culture

I believe all students deserve to learn at their highest level for the best opportunities after high school. Our students benefit from access to over a dozen focus areas in one of the best career and technical programs in the state, which boasts Tennessee Pathways Certification, work-based learning, apprenticeships, internships, and multiple early postsecondary opportunities. Our AP program has also shown dramatic improvements over the past 12 years by not only an increased enrollment from 35 students to almost 500, but also an increase in our number of students scoring 3 or better by 20%. We also have almost 1,000 credits attempted in dual enrollment/credit courses, with almost half of our graduates earning 12 or more college credits. The greatest successes are recognized at graduation when the scholarship amount for each class is announced. The Class of 2021 broke a school record and was awarded over $8 million in scholarships.

2021 Texas Principal of the Year

Shon Joseph

DeSoto ISD
DeSoto, TX

Grades: 9–12
Students: 2,800
Region: Urban

  • Data driven practices
  • Using classroom visit trend data

I can still recall my first graduation as principal. It was an evening graduation at our football stadium. There was a tradition at the school. The seniors of the school would hand the principal an item as they shook the principal’s hand. If they liked you, they gave you something special. If they didn’t like you, be prepared for something cumbersome. While we had a great year with preliminary scores through the roof, I was a first-year principal. As each student crossed, they gave me a handshake, a hug, and placed their student ID around my neck. I was in tears. Several students had already shared with the administrators their plan to honor me at graduation. Student achievement and culture have a strong correlation. A school that was once deemed “academically unacceptable” had achieved the state’s second highest rating in a dramatic one-year turnaround.

2021 Utah Principal of the Year

Brian McGill, 2021 POY Utah

Brian P. McGill

Alta High School
Sandy, UT

Grades: 9–12
Students: 2,352
Region: Suburban

  • Transformational leadership
  • Student advocacy

I am responsible for creating a state-of-the-art and award-winning early college pathway in partnership with the University of Utah. The program began five years ago and allows students to earn their general education certificate through the University of Utah by enrolling in two summer semester blocks after junior and senior years of high school. Students are saving, on average, about $15,000 in tuition and shedding two years of studies off their bachelor’s degrees, alleviating financial barriers and time constraints to obtaining a university degree. Alta has seen a significant increase in students of color, students from low socioeconomic status households, and other diverse learners in the program over the five years of operations. Students who participate report having more confidence and a stronger connection to feeling efficacious in their personal learning. Students have saved $4.8 million collectively since the program began.

2021 Virginia Principal of the Year

S. Kambar Khoshaba

Western Branch Middle School
Chesapeake, VA

Grades: 6–8
Students: 925
Region: Suburban

  • Creating opportunities for student voice to be heard
  • Developing a multi-layered SEL model to address student needs

Western Branch Middle School empowered students to be part of the decision-making process by creating our first-ever Social Justice Council (SJC). Students quickly identified the primary need for students to come to school and be their “real” selves. Various issues were discussed, but the one the students agreed needed immediate change was our school dress code. Students found it to be discriminatory based on ethnicity and economic status. They presented their research to the principal, who endorsed their request but asked that they receive feedback from other stakeholders. They conducted a presentation at a faculty meeting and during the morning announcements to students. Information was also shared with parents. Soon thereafter, the adoption of a new dress code took place. As one SJC member stated, “I used to think about getting dress coded every day when I woke up for school. Now I just think about what I’m going to learn!”

2021 Vermont Principal of the Year

Steven Dellinger-Pate

U-32 Middle/High School
Montpelier, VT

Grades: 7–12
Students: 750
Region: Rural

  • Building strong relationships between schools and businesses
  • Developing a school culture based on restorative practices

From my time as principal of Pathways Academy in Hartford, CT, I learned the value of strong relationships between schools and local business. At Pathways, I helped develop an program where every student participated in a paid internship in technology-related fields. Pathways gained recognition as a School of Distinction by the National Academy Foundation for its work in preparing students for college and beyond. At U-32, I have continued that work by hiring a work-based learning coordinator and expanding the options that students have for participating in community-based learning. I serve on the Central Vermont Economic Development Corporation Board and the Governor’s Workforce Development Board because I believe that schools must work with local businesses and industry. Our students serve as the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs, and members of the workforce—and it is only through partnership with local business and industry that we can build strong, vibrant communities.

2021 Washington Principal of the Year

David Cooke

Jemtegaard Middle School
Washougal, WA

Grades: 6­­–8
Students: 500
Region: Suburban

  • Student discipline/culture
  • Student centered learning

Over the last 17 years, I have tried various methods to reduce student discipline and keep students in class while supporting my teachers. In 2018, Dr. Michelle Massar and I developed the Student Support System, which allows students to get the support they need before it manifests into a significant disciplinary incident in the classroom and impacts other students and staff. When a teacher sees a student is struggling, they call the office for student support. A support team member allows students to safely process their current feelings using restorative questions just outside the classroom door. As a result, students feel heard and supported, and 95% will return to class and have no further behaviors that period. The system, fully supported by staff, has led to a 66% drop in major discipline infractions. In addition, students are not sitting in the office or suspended, saving hundreds of instructional hours.

2021 West Virginia Principal of the Year

Kenneth DeMoss

Parkersburg High School
Parkersburg, WV

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,750
Region: Urban

  • Service and habits
  • Investment and passion

I love volunteering our school for service projects or creating some for our community to be involved in. Last year we collected 150 boxes (complete dinners) to feed the needy for Thanksgiving. It not only made me feel good, but it made our staff and students feel good; it also showed our community that we care about them. This past year the Salvation Army was in desperate need of bath towels. So, we did a competitive homeroom “towel drive” and ended up delivering and donating 321 towels to our community. Service is a vital component for success and empathy.

2021 Wisconsin Principal of the Year

Dave Beranek

Marathon High School
Marathon, WI

Grades: 9–12
Students: 255
Region: Rural

  • Staff relations
  • Technology

Over my past 21 years as a high school principal, I have devoted my career to focusing on creating a culture of learning in my building with my staff and students. In many small rural areas, high schools, communities, parents, and students celebrate and cherish their sports teams. It had been a focus of mine to dedicate as many resources to celebrating and promoting academic excellence as that of sports teams. It is part of the culture of our community to have pep rallies and parades for our Academic Decathlon and other academic-based competitive teams as we would for our sports teams. I have continued to learn and focus attention on hiring the very best teachers, with a continued effort on supporting them as they grow in the profession. I take a group of different teachers to professional learning conferences each year, attending with and supporting them.

2021 Wyoming Principal of the Year

Matthew Scott Crisp

Jackson Hole High School
Jackson, WY

Grades: 9–12
Students: 780
Region: Rural

  • Student-to-student discussions on improving student sense of connection in school
  • Shifting to a personalized student learning model

I developed and launched a new schoolwide and community agency partnership event called Food for Thought implemented twice a school year. The heart of the program focused on student-to-student roundtable discussions to exchange ideas to improve our school and student sense of belonging. Community agency leaders, students, and staff members attended. Food for Thought was held during the 2018–20 school years. Participant totals for each event included over 70 grade 9–12 students from diverse backgrounds, over 20 educators representing various roles, over 15 community members representing parents, community agency leaders, and board of education trustees. Outcomes included: 1) Elevated discussions targeting equity, diversity, and inclusion; 2) All participants examined their own beliefs and understandings about barriers of student connection; 3) Partnerships with community agencies and schools to create a student-dedicated learning space reflecting equity and student belonging.