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.
2021 NASSP National Principal of the Year finalists
Piedmont High School
When Adam Clemons became principal of the small, rural high school in 2013, he set out to help kids feel socially connected, be academically successful, and have an advantage as they enter college or the workforce. Clemons developed a teachers-as-advisers program—which was then used as a model for the state of Alabama—to provide a 30-minute advisory period to allow teachers and paraprofessionals to build relationships that support students academically, psychologically, and emotionally. Working with district leaders, Clemons helped implement mental health counseling services and training for teachers at local schools so students didn’t have to travel out of town for counseling services, saving both time and expenses. In Clemons’ time as principal, extracurricular participation has grown by 20 percent, the graduation rate has risen by 8 percent, and discipline referrals decreased by over 50 percent.
Paul Robeson High School for Human Services
Richard Gordon became principal of Paul Robeson High School (PRHS) in 2013 after the school narrowly escaped permanent closure. The root of the discord was the conflicting relationships between stakeholders—a negative attitude brought on by despondent staff members who questioned their belief in students’ ability to succeed, and students who did not feel academically, psychologically, emotionally, or physically safe. Gordon designed a strategic response plan that embraced prevention and intervention measures. A Safe Corridors Program—a collaboration between PRHS and the University City District—provides extra supervision for students traveling to and from school, increasing safety in surrounding neighborhoods. Gordon added over 30 new community partnerships, including a mental health therapy program that provides trauma support for students and builds a trauma-informed school environment. Since the implementation of these programs, truancy rates have decreased by over 22 percent, graduation rates now average 95 percent, and school suspension rates fell below 5 percent, making PRHS one of the safest schools in Philadelphia.
Charles W. Flanagan High School
Pembroke Pines, FL
Michelle Kefford has always been cognizant of the importance of fostering a positive, supportive, and collaborative school culture. She believes it is critical to be consistently visible, available, and approachable, not only to staff but to students and the entire school community. She established “Kefford’s Kitchen,” a program where groups of students can sign up to have lunch with her and ask questions, provide feedback, make suggestions, and share their ideas and vision for the school. Kefford believes that if members of the school community feel valued, respected, appreciated, and loved, the teachers will give more, and the students will learn more. Kefford introduced a mentoring program that pairs low-performing ninth- and 10th-grade students with high-performing 11th- and 12th-grade students. In the first year of the program, learning gains for the school’s lowest quartile rose from 48 percent to 69 percent.