State Principals of the Year

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.

2020 State Principals of the Year

State Name School Name
Alabama Adam Clemons Piedmont High School
Alaska Robyn Taylor Hutchison Career Center
Arizona Jeffrey Simon Payson High School
Arkansas Darin Landry Lakeside High School
Colorado William Dallas Fountain Middle School
Connecticut Nancy Dowling Bunnell High School
Delaware Shanta Reynolds St. Georges Technical High School
District of Columbia Diedre L. Neal Alice Deal Middle School
DODEA Terri Marshall DoDEA Virtual High School
DOSOS Eric Monson International School of Panama
Florida Michelle Kefford Charles W. Flanagan High School
Georgia Joseph Carter Oconee Middle School
Hawaii Mahina Anguay Waimea High School
Idaho Adam Johnson Murtaugh Middle-High School
Illinois Tron Young Joseph Arthur Middle School
Indiana Tom Harmas Carmel High School
Kansas Jay Novacek Olathe West High School
Kentucky Noel Crum Johnson Central High School
Louisiana Carli Francois Dutchtown High School
Maine Eben Shaw Leavitt Area High School
Maryland Nicole Isley-McClure High Point High School
Massachusetts Stacy Monette Paul R. Baird Middle School
Michigan Todd Simmons Pewamo-Westphalia Middle School/High School
Minnesota Karin Lopez Woodbury Middle School
Mississippi Benjamin Stein Northwest Rankin High School
Missouri Eric Johnson Winnetonka High School
Montana Shawn Hendrickson St. Ignatius Middle School/High School
Nebraska Susan Cassata Lincoln East High School
Nevada Cailin Ellis Victoria Fertitta Middle School
New Jersey Michael Vinella East Brunswick High School
New Mexico James Schapekahm Onate High School
New York Felicia Thomas-Williams West Middle School
North Carolina Matthew Bristow-Smith Edgecombe Early College High School
North Dakota Terry Bentz Grant County High School
Ohio Jeffrey Legan Mayfield High School
Oklahoma Chris LeGrande Guthrie High School
Oregon Matt Thatcher Cascade High School
Pennsylvania Richard Gordon Paul Robeson High School for Human Services
Rhode Island Craig MacKenzie Chariho Regional High School
South Carolina Sonya Bryant Batesburg-Leesville High School
South Dakota Kyley Cumbow Georgia Morse Middle School
Tennessee Michele Webb Henry County High School
Texas Jill Stafford Lowery Freshman Center
Utah Paula Logan Butler Middle School
Vermont Sarah Pickering Arlington Memorial High School
West Virginia John Conrad Westwood Middle School
Wisconsin Eitan Benzaquen Hillcrest School
Wyoming Jeff Makelky Big Piney High School

2020 Alabama Principal of the Year

Adam B. Clemons

Adam B. Clemons

Piedmont High School
Piedmont, AL

Grades: 9–12
Students: 315
Region: Rural

  • College and career readiness
  • Being innovative to get the most from state and local leaders

During my tenure as principal at Piedmont High School (PHS) our state report card has risen to the top six percent of high schools in Alabama, even with 64 percent of students living in poverty and the district placing 123rd in funding out of 137 districts. PHS is the only school in Alabama to have 100 percent of our graduates college and career ready on the 2019 report card, with 92 percent of those students earning a career tech credential in construction, agriscience, or health science. PHS has a 98 percent graduation rate and 100 percent ACT growth rate. During my tenure, PHS’s postsecondary enrollment grew 22 percent. This is due in part to my starting eight dual-enrollment courses on-site and expanding off-campus opportunities. I spearheaded the effort for PHS to become the first high school in Alabama to require computer science principles as a graduation requirement.


2020 Alaska Principal of the Year

Robyn Jeanette Taylor

Robyn Jeanette Taylor

Hutchison Career Center
Fairbanks, AK

Grades: 9–12
Students: 398
Region: Urban
@PrincipalAK

  • Finding positivity in all situations
  • Building strategies to help the school community appreciate, respect, and support one another

I led my school community through an iterative process developing a workplace readiness score, a simple one-page document providing employers with accurate information about the habits demonstrated by potential employees while attending school. Staff, students, employers, and parents participated in the document’s creation and development. Employers need young adults who will show up to work on time and work well with others. Grades alone do not show this information, and in some cases can obscure it. The score assesses the areas of soft skills, timeliness, attendance, missing work, and late work, with data pulled from Powerschool and teacher-inputted soft skills scores. Scores are updated every semester. Many students print copies immediately to provide at job interviews. Teachers have shared that the score provides students with clear incentives to improve their attendance, timeliness, and collaboration with supervisors and peers. Employers like the “picture” it gives them of the student.


2020 Arizona Principal of the Year

Jeff Simon

Jeff Simon

Payson High School
Payson, AZ

Grades: 9–12
Students: 724
Region: Rural
@JeffSimon24

  • Building culture
  • Restorative justice

I was instrumental in developing a restorative justice program that pulls together Payson High School, local community counseling services, local law enforcement, county probations, the local county health department, and the governor’s office to build wraparound service and supports for our students to include discipline and attendance. Through this program, PHS has been able reduce suspension time—maximizing learning while providing necessary social and emotional supports to kids and families. In many cases, this program has given students a second chance to correct behaviors prior to law enforcement intervention. This program has not only been a huge success for PHS but touted by the Arizona governor’s office as a model program for other schools to follow.


2020 Arkansas Principal of the Year

Darin Landry

Darin Landry

Lakeside High School
Hot Springs, AR

Grades: 8–12
Students: 1,314
Region: Suburban
@dlandry1921

  • Building positive relationships
  • Progressive and innovative leadership

Throughout my time as an administrator, I have worked to provide a culture that allows students to learn from all choices and mistakes and not just receive consequences. For example, recognizing the impact expulsion was making on students who were in possession or under the influence of drugs and alcohol at school, we developed a second chance policy that allowed students to be suspended (but still complete their assignments), complete community service, and participate in a substance abuse program to maintain their status as active students. From that, we implemented a restorative justice program in place of our former in-school suspension. The new program is now a place of reflection, explanation, and decision and includes counseling, physical activity, community service, and academic time. The main goal of this program was to reduce the number of out-of-school suspension (OSS) infractions. Between the 2018–19 and 2019–20 fall semesters, there was a 43.8 percent decrease in OSS infractions.


2020 Colorado Principal of the Year

William Dallas

William Dallas

Fountain Middle School
Fountain, CO

Grades: 6–8
Students: 1,080
Region: Suburban
@Bill_Dallas91

  • System thinking
  • Visionary leadership

When done effectively, being an educational leader is exhausting and arduous. However, it is also one of the most fulfilling and gratifying experiences I have ever known. I told myself when I became a school leader that unless I reach the point where I feel that without my contributions the school would have been in a far worse situation, then I will feel a lack of purpose in my pursuits. When I became principal of the school four years ago, there was a lack of identity and purpose, high turnover rates, and a culture of despair. Now, within four years, through the development of an identity and establishment of shared leadership, we are a school where staff and students are emotional when leaving because they will miss an amazingly special school.


2020 Connecticut Principal of the Year

Nancy C. Dowling

Nancy C. Dowling

Bunnell High School
Stratford, CT

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,037
Region: Urban

  • Graduation rates and attendance interventions
  • Academic interventions in an urban setting

Four years ago, as I participated in our district-level instructional rounds, I realized that most of the feedback from rounds traveled a long road to directly affect and impact student achievement. I decided then to conduct instructional rounds with and for my students, focusing on our freshmen and seeking to impact their potential and trajectory as learners. At the same time, I committed to addressing the disconnect between our school enrollment and the demographics of the students enrolled in honors and AP classes. Since 2016, I have completed rounds each year with 100 freshmen, visiting 25 classes with groups of 8­–10 students (every AP class, pathway programs, and various electives). In May 2020, our students took 508 AP exams (a 400 percent increase); minority student enrollment in AP courses has increased by 50 percent; and we now offer sophomore enrollment in two AP classes (AP U.S. History and AP Psychology).


2020 Delaware Principal of the Year

Shanta Reynolds

Shanta Reynolds

St. Georges Technical High School
Middletown, DE

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,115
Region: Suburban
@shanta_reynolds

  • Natural planner
  • Team building

I lead learning and build culture by expanding the leadership capacity in our school. I have developed a strong leadership team called the Powerful Development Team (PDT)—created for teachers and administrators to work collectively on achieving the instructional focus on literacy. The PDT participated in activities that were intrinsically meaningful for them and provided the autonomy to lead initiatives. The focus was for the PDT to accomplish school goals that centered on literacy, increase leadership skills, and establish a cohesive team of teachers and administrators that work together to solve schoolwide problems. I assisted the team with executing these goals by developing a process for selecting instructors to serve on the team. I also helped teachers select personal schoolwide goals and provided teachers with professional learning opportunities to improve their understanding of leadership and literacy.


2020 District of Columbia Principal of the Year

Diedre Neal

Diedre L. Neal

Alice Deal Middle School
Washington, DC

Grades: 6–8
Students: 1,510
Region: Urban

  • Compassion
  • Supportive of students and staff

Leading the largest middle level school in Washington, D.C., is a collaborative effort and true labor of love. At the end of our daily morning announcements, I typically lead our entire school community in exclaiming, “Here We Grow!” As a result of our school community’s commitment to embracing a growth mindset and our efforts to ensure academic achievement for all our students, Alice Deal Middle School has been named a National Blue Ribbon School. For the past three years, we have worked to incorporate a trauma-informed, healing-centered approach to support the social-emotional development of our students through mindfulness and our Community Building Time advisory program. Our equity work has included a leadership program for young men of color, Talking Across the Lines, and a partnership with Matthew Kincaid of Overcoming Racism to provide training to our entire staff. I am truly excited to continue this work through our newly formed Deal Anti-Bias Anti-Racism Initiative.


2020 DODEA Principal of the Year

Terri L. Marshall

Terri L. Marshall

DoDEA Virtual High School
Quantico, VA

Grades: 7–12
Students: 2,903
Region: Suburban

  • Building a collaborative culture
  • Creating a virtual school

Shared leadership and developing teacher-leaders is an embedded practice at the DoDEA Virtual High School (DVHS). Thus, the majority of decisions and solutions are made from a collaborative approach. DVHS has teachers who lead digital learning communities (DLC) focused on school improvement. In order to develop leadership capacity, I sought out instructors who typically would not volunteer for this role. Because of this leadership model, DVHS now has several initiatives within the school as well as new teacher-leaders. One DLC developed standardized best practices for grading policies and procedures. Another DLC created a teacher toolbox where staff post lessons to share and elicit feedback. The DLC dedicated to teacher mentoring created an online course for new teachers. Another DLC dedicated to onboarding students solicited feedback from stakeholders and changed our student orientation. Without collaborative leadership, our school would not have grown from 500 enrollments to over 2,600 enrollments in a decade.


2020 DOSOS Principal of the Year

Eric C. Monson

Eric C. Monson

International School of Panama
Cerro Viento Rural, San Miguelito, Panama City

Grades: 9–12
Students: 372
Region: Suburban
@monson85

  • Inspiring others to action through stories
  • Integrity and commitment, focusing on what is best for students

Power of the “Put Up”: When building school culture, it is critical to recognize and reinforce the behaviors that you want to see continue. Early in my teaching career, I gave students Put Up cards to recognize specific positive attributes I observed and wanted to reinforce throughout the classroom. As a building leader, establishing a positive work culture has been a priority. People work better when appreciated! Over my entire career, I have used Put Up cards as a way to recognize individuals and build a positive work environment. The Put Up card caught on and is currently being used by former students, teachers, coaches, and administrators, and remains in use at previous schools. My highlight came when I left Mount Vernon High School, and each member of the faculty presented me with a Put Up card as a gesture of appreciation for my contributions.


2020 Florida Principal of the Year

Michelle Kefford

Michelle Kefford

Charles W. Flanagan High School
Pembroke Pines, FL

Grades: 9–12
Students: 2,412
Region: Suburban

  • Building a positive school culture
  • Leadership development

I have created many programs that build a positive culture of caring and inclusion and improve learning. One example is the “Kefford’s Kids” mentoring program, where high-performing students in 11th and 12th grade mentor low-performing students in ninth and 10th grade. Team-building activities are conducted throughout the year and mentors meet with their mentees on a biweekly basis. Staff intercede through one-on-one conversations quarterly to ensure academic success as well as to provide motivation for the students. Because of this program, learning gains in my school’s lowest quartile went from 48 percent to 69 percent, and student involvement in school increased by 30 percent. Additionally, I created opportunities for students to meet with me regularly to discuss concerns, provide feedback, and foster positive relationships. One example is “Kefford’s Kitchen,” where groups of students dine with me during their lunch period to discuss various topics.


2020 Georgia Principal of the Year

J. Keith Carter

J. Keith Carter

Oconee Middle School
Watkinsville, GA

Grades: 6–8
Students: 929
Region: Rural

  • Creating an environment that allows for teacher innovation
  • Schoolwide literacy integration

My focus as a school building leader is cross-content literacy integration. Teacher and student collaboration with targeted feedback is an important aspect of growth for students related to literacy. As a school, we have built-in writing targets and instruction to ensure students can articulate understanding of acquired content and apply skills learned in the classroom through written words. Oconee County Middle School addressed a gap in student achievement by adopting a schoolwide Literacy Integration Professional Learning Community. Within the plan, research-based reading and writing strategies were selected to meet specific student needs with appropriate instruction based on what skills students had mastered, and more importantly, what they were ready to learn. After reviewing schoolwide norm-referenced assessment data, the leadership team and content teachers decided to target skills in reading for all students. Teachers use research-based strategies to increase reading and writing performance in all content areas.


2020 Hawaii Principal of the Year

Mahina Anguay

Mahina Anguay

Waimea High School
Waimea, HI

Grades: 9–12
Students: 676
Region: Rural
@WaimeaHigh

  • Academies
  • Difficult conversations

My leading learning story is the journey of moving Waimea High School from a traditional, comprehensive high school to a career academy of widely diverse educators who harnessed their collective, compelling “why” and restructured what they did as adults to what’s best for kids. I started by building a small core group of early adopters; I attended all the professional development and travel with them. This allowed me time to build relationships while collaboratively building our blueprint for change. We used design thinking to dream, iterate, fail, and repeat; making it OK to fail has been a major shift. My teachers are focused on helping their students develop essential skills needed to succeed in this post-COVID-19 world. Our academies seek community partnerships where students can explore their passions and serve West Kauai through our pathways; our school resources are aligned to deliver graduates who are technologically proficient, resilient, and culturally and community-minded.


2020 Idaho Principal of the Year

Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson

Murtaugh Middle-High School
Murtaugh, ID

Grades: 6–12
Students: 187
Region: Rural

  • School culture
  • Student motivation

I am very proud of the culture that we have built at Murtaugh Middle-High School. It is routinely one of the first things that guests comment on when visiting our school, and is something that you can almost instantly feel when you walk through the front doors. I believe that our culture is a source of pride for our students, teachers, and patrons alike, and all parties realize they share a role in protecting and promoting our cultural values. Our culture is starkly different from what most middle level and high schools would describe. The first words that I would use to describe the culture at Murtaugh Middle-High School are kindness, tolerance, and family. Murtaugh is a melting pot where students of diverse backgrounds, socioeconomic status, religions, ethnicity, and values all can converge and unite as classmates, friends, and family.


2020 Illinois Principal of the Year

Tron M. Young

Tron M. Young

Joseph Arthur Middle School
O’Fallon, IL

Grades: 5–8
Students: 264
Region: Urban
@tron2teach4u

  • Professional development
  • Coaching

One thing that has made a significant impact on our school culture is the beginning of the year “Get On The Bus” tour. Our entire district gets on a bus, and we go out to tour our community to see where our students live. Community businesses donate materials and supplies for us to get out to our students. For the tour, we purposefully select several students—our entire district then gets off the bus to show them how excited we are to have them part of our school community. We livestream the tour on our Facebook page. We have been able to reach over 5,000 people through our bus tour livestream. Coming from a small district, that means that other people are sharing our story and are impacted by our school culture, not just our students and parents.


2020 Indiana Principal of the Year

Thomas L. Harmas

Thomas L. Harmas

Carmel High School
Carmel, IN

Grades: 9–11
Students: 5,360
Region: Suburban

  • Building a team
  • Leadership

Carmel High School’s 5,400 students and 700 staff are dedicated to high achievement in all aspects of school life. With the inherent pressure of this level of dedication, stress permeates all involved. Recognizing this, a culture of care initiative was developed to help all stakeholders take better care of one another. Committees of students, parents, and staff cooperated to plan a three-prong approach of support; kids take care of kids, parents take care of parents, and staff take care of staff and students. The changes we have seen have been very encouraging. While stress can’t be eliminated, being part of a community of people who care is empowering. Students look for ways to encourage one another, staff examine the social-emotional impact of everything they do, and parents are on board with supporting each other. The future is bright as we continue to build a culture of care.


2020 Kansas Principal of the Year

Jay Novacek

Jay Novacek

Olathe West High School
Olathe, KS

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,700
Region: Suburban
@OWNovacekOwls

  • Flexible teaching spaces and benefits
  • Hiring the right people

In 2017, Olathe West opened as the fifth high school in our city, and I served as the first principal. Our district went against the normal new school plans and built the school in the oldest and most established part of the city. For an entire year, I visited other middle level and high schools in our city, talking to them about what it meant to be an Owl from Olathe West. I shared our vision and goals and had to work against the well-established traditions at our sister schools. Our district hoped we would open with 500 students and grow slowly. I told them we would open with 800. In the fall of 2017, we opened with over 800.


2020 Kentucky Principal of the Year

Noel Crum

Noel Crum

Johnson Central High School
Paintsville, KY

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,026
Region: Rural

  • Programs of study/career pathways
  • Student Leadership development

Three years ago, I started a student and staff leadership program at Johnson Central High School. The program comprised a weekly special period for students where we would cover a new leadership development lesson or individual learning plan topic. From there, we added a student leadership team who met weekly and worked to develop strategies to make our school better. This included helping to rewrite our school’s attendance policy and taking over the responsibility of doing our daily morning announcements. We also held a 7 Habits of Highly Effective People training for our staff at Johnson Central. In addition to this, I began a staff leadership committee where I met each quarter to discuss leadership philosophies and gain input on real issues at our school. These leadership strategies have improved our culture and made students and staff more involved in school decision making.


2020 Louisiana Principal of the Year

Carli A. Francois

Carli A. Francois

Dutchtown High School
Geismar, LA

Grades: 9–12
Students: 2,367
Region: Suburban
@carliafrancois

  • Building school culture
  • Establishing structures to ensure high expections

Much of our latest achievements and progress at Dutchtown High School (DTHS), home of the griffins, may be attributed to our successful change in culture as we have focused our work around “Every Griffin.” With an ever-growing student population and an ever-changing world, we realized that the only way to continue to improve would be to focus on each individual student with the core belief that every stakeholder—Every Griffin—is extremely valuable to the work we do at DTHS. We started with a communication of this core belief and have moved toward acting on this belief. That focus has impacted our school culture academically, socially, and emotionally, but there is still much work to be done to reach our vision for what we want DTHS to be. Therefore, we will continue to find ways to focus on Every Griffin so that everyone can continue to grow.


2020 Maine Principal of the Year

Eben Shaw

Eben Shaw

Leavitt Area High School
Turner, ME

Grades: 9–12
Students: 526
Region: Rural

  • Organizing groups to take on large challenges
  • Building community within the school

Some time ago, several staff members approached me as they looked for ways to expand opportunities for students while at the same time removing barriers between students with developmental disabilities and their nondisabled peers. Our work led us to the Unified Schools Project. We now have offerings that pair unified athletes with unified partners in basketball, bocce, and bowling. Additionally, our Unified Schools club organizes activities such as the “End the ‘R’ Word” campaign, where students pledge to end the use of language that demeans individuals with developmental disabilities. Our efforts have dramatically increased the positive relationships between our students with developmental disabilities and the rest of our student body, leading to all of our students having stronger connections and more positive experiences. As a result, in 2019 we were recognized as a Unified Champion School, one of the first high schools in Maine to receive this distinction.


2020 Maryland Principal of the Year

Nicole Isley-McClure

Nicole Isley-McClure

High Point High School
Beltsville, MD

Grades: 9–12
Students: 2,753
Region: Urban
@HPHSPrincipal

  • Passionate
  • Loyal

At the heart of my work as a principal is a passion for the well-being and success of our diverse student population. An impactful encounter with one young man, who asked if he could spend the holidays with my family because he comes from a small household with limited resources, sparked in me a desire to bring the comforts and peace we experience to our less fortunate students. From that encounter, The Holiday At High Point was created. The celebratory event brought together our at-risk and homeless students, community, faith-based organizations, and staff to bestow on our young scholars what they needed to feel treasured. Providing students with a sense of support, value, and belonging is critical in the united work we do for our students and their families. This has been the cornerstone of the culture shift at High Point High School.


2020 Massachusetts Principal of the Year

Stacy Monette

Stacy Monette

Paul R. Baird Middle School
Ludlow, MA

Grades: 6–8
Students: 618
Region: Suburban
@MonetteStacy

  • Interpersonal skills and goal setting
  • Culture and team building

At my very first staff meeting four years ago I presented each staff member with an engagement ring to introduce myself. I explained that the rings symbolized my commitment to our school, the students, staff, and community, and a promise to do my best to move Paul R. Baird Middle School forward. This small gesture was actually the first of many yearly tokens that I have handed out to staff and students over the past few years to coincide with the vision and goals that I have set for our school community. I look forward each summer to creating a theme for our Baird family that coincides with school and district goals. Although a small gesture, these tokens have been a game changer in uniting our school community each year. This year my assistant principal and I have chosen a hand token expressing “all hands on deck” and “resiliency” through these times.


2020 Michigan Principal of the Year

Todd Simmons

Todd Simmons

Pewamo-Westphalia Middle School/High School
Westphalia, MI

Grades: 6–12
Students: 490
Region: Rural
@PWSchools

  • Culture
  • Interim assessment

At Pewamo-Westphalia Middle/High School, our shared vision for our school is that of a truly holistic experience for our students, staff, parents, and guests, where our success is not defined by state ranking, SAT scores, state championships, awards from national publications, or scholarships earned; rather, by whether or not each and every one of our students and staff reaches their fullest potential. The formation and growth of our champions’ culture is what we spend most of our time and resources on. Whether through professional development sessions, school improvement training meetings, parent forums, assemblies, initiatives, decisions, or daily reminders—our culture guides, drives, and focuses our days. We have been intentional in our hiring and mentoring practices. We understand the requisite of hiring for character first, as skills can be taught over time. By bringing in high-integrity, high-energy staff, we have been able to accomplish more of our goals and objectives at a faster rate.


2020 Minnesota Principal of the Year

Karin Lopez

Karin Lopez

Woodbury Middle School
Woodbury, MN

Grades: 6–8
Students: 1,185
Region: Suburban

  • Creating a warm and inclusive climate and culture
  • Motivating and developing staff for continuous improvement

Woodbury Middle School (WMS) staff members have shared that I have been instrumental in creating and leading impactful programs and training, allowing them to grow in engaging all students. In 2016, I seized an opportunity to attend the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Leadership and College Readiness training with my building leadership team to learn about the power of social capital and trust among staff in driving student learning. Through intentional staff development opportunities and investment in staff culture, a cornerstone to the success of students and staff at WMS has been high-quality structure, cohesiveness, and collaboration of its teaching teams and professional learning communities. Examples of trust-building exercises within teaching teams included creating norms and a “plan, do, study, act” process. That trust built throughout WMS staff has increased the effectiveness of other professional development opportunities, such as strategies for English-language learner students, gifted learners, and special education students as well as AVID strategies, equity, and culturally responsive teaching.


2020 Mississippi Principal of the Year

Ben Stein

Ben Stein

Northwest Rankin High School
Flowood, MS

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,656
Region: Suburban
@nwrankinhs

  • Transparent
  • Hard work ethic

The school culture at Northwest Rankin High School (NWRHS) has always been very positive. When I became the leader at NWRHS, I continued to build upon its culture by developing better relationships with students, staff, and the community. The community is where I believe NWRHS needed the most improvement. While our community was strong, there was a missing component with its partnership with the schools. I developed a crucial relationship with the Flowood Chamber and helped develop an Education Committee through that relationship. I volunteered my time to serve as the Education Committee Chair while also serving on the Flowood Chamber Board of Directors. This relationship led to several programs including Business in the Classroom, Flowood Chamber Scholarships, and Black and Gold Fridays. These programs exploded in participation and spread to every school in the Flowood area, and the culture in our school is now stronger than ever before.


2020 Missouri Principal of the Year

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson

Winnetonka High School
Kansas City, MO

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,215
Region: Suburban
@Tonka_TRUE

  • Leading for equity and inclusion
  • Professional learning communities

One of my most rewarding success stories is a work that is always in draft form and will forever be in progress—infusing spirit and a feeling of inclusiveness at Winnetonka. Paving a pathway toward positive school culture has been a great accomplishment for me personally and has contributed greatly to our school’s continued progress. Using the tenets of “Tonka T.R.U.E.” (Tradition. Respect. Unity. Excellence.) as a foundation has expanded our daily celebration of students’ cultural identities and has helped promote ownership among all members of the school community. We intentionally promote, elevate, and celebrate our students’ cultural histories by embedding inclusive practices into our systems, procedures, and curricula. Remaining Tonka T.R.U.E. helps us centralize student voice, assists in our “relationships first” philosophy, has yielded increased student engagement, and has created a more unified school community where students feel seen, heard, and valued.


2020 Montana Principal of the Year

Shawn J. Hendrickson

Shawn J. Hendrickson

St. Ignatius Middle School/High School
St. Ignatius, MT

Grades: 6–12
Students: 250
Region: Rural
@ShawnHend76

  • Celebrating students and their successes
  • Creating a positive school climate and culture

We have built a school culture at St. Ignatius that sets students up for success after high school. Our school vision is: Every student college, career, and community ready. The biggest piece of this success starts with the senior project that students have to complete before they graduate. We want our students to be able to work well with others, learn the value of giving to others, and understand their role in society. Every senior is required to complete 40 hours of community service. The heart of our senior project is students creating a five-year plan. Students go through mock interviews with community business partners. If a student plans to go to college, they perform extensive research on their top three choices and apply to those schools during our college application week. Students also shadow career professionals. This is how we help students compete globally.


2020 Nebraska Principal of the Year

Susan Cassata

Susan Cassata

Lincoln East High School
Lincoln, NE

Grades: 9–12
Students: 2,254
Region: Urban
@susancassata

  • Leader of learning
  • Building relationships and culture

As a community, we have focused on instructional design so that our classrooms are powerful places for all students. Creating staff meetings that model good instructional design, high levels of staff engagement, and opportunities to respond have been the core of the work I have done the last few years. I model the use of different classroom tools for staff members. This impact has seen students reporting higher levels of engagement, staff awareness of students who are on track in their learning, and staff interest in furthering their professional learning.


2020 Nevada Principal of the Year

Cailin Ellis

Cailin Ellis

Victoria Fertitta Middle School
Las Vegas, NV

Grades: 6–8
Students: 1352
Region: Suburban
@VFMSPrincipal

  • Innovative
  • Building leaders

The opportunity to move from leading an elementary school into leading an aligned middle school was a highlight in my career as a principal. Witnessing the growth of students from a collaboration between these collective school teams from kindergarten through eighth grade is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. I contribute the success to all of the educators who supported a shared vision, desire for greatness, and a commitment to model our WHY in their daily interactions with students, families, and their colleagues. The opportunity to lead and serve these exemplary school communities is a privilege that I am thankful for every day.


2020 New Jersey Principal of the Year

Michael Vinella

Michael Vinella

East Brunswick High School
East Brunswick, NJ

Grades: 10–12
Students: 2,068
Region: Suburban
@EBHSprinc

  • Developing learning organizations through PLC framework
  • Online learning

As the learning leader, I institutionalized a professional learning community framework to transition East Brunswick High School (EBHS) into a learning organization. The staff of approximately 300 used data to drive personalized professional learning and enhance teacher practice. Interdisciplinary learning teams flourished, and a flipped classroom emerged as every teacher developed a Canvas online classroom. Through this cooperative effort, the infrastructure of the 60-year-old building was updated to allow every student and staff member work wirelessly using a Lenovo ThinkPad. It was because of this long-range planning and collaboration that students and staff were able to smoothly transition to distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and expand the relationship with Middlesex County College (MCC) through the Pathways Program. Hundreds of students take college-level courses at EBHS and MCC with a savings to parents of over $1 million. Students are able to graduate from EBHS with an associate degree or a handful of college credits.


2020 New Mexico Principal of the Year

James Schapekahm

James Schapekahm

Oñate High School
Las Cruces, NM

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,636
Region: Urban

  • Culture driven
  • Making sure we live by “we all belong here”

On March 13, 2020, my seniors left my school and never returned due to the pandemic. It left an indelible void in our school, their families, and most notably, for them—whom I’ve dedicated my life to assisting. Aspiring athletes bereft of spring sports, theater productions halted, band concerts and high school prom ceased. I decided I needed this class to be remembered for their 13 years of hard work, the trials of the last few months, and the appreciation our school community had for them. Consequently, I created a “Senior Wall,” writing over 350 seniors’ names, climbing up and down a ladder for approximately 10 hours, until it was finished. The accolades of a video, news segments and articles, all well-intentioned, could never replace the kids’ reactions to seeing their own names and knowing they will remain while I’m principal of Oñate High School.


2020 New York Principal of the Year

Felicia Thomas-Williams

Felicia Thomas-Williams

West Middle School
Bay Shore, NY

Grades: 6–8
Students: 937
Region: Suburban

  • Collaboration
  • Active listening

My constant focus on strengthening relationships between school and the home and increasing parent and community involvement has garnered significant momentum. Parents are encouraged to be active participants of the School Improvement Team, acting as liaisons to the PTA and West Middle School (WMS) community. Our collaborations with several community-based organizations—including the Gang Resistance Education and Training Program with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, STRONG Youth, TRUST with the Suffolk County Police Department, Girl’s Inc., Plaza Communitaria, The WMS Mentoring Enrichment Program, The Brentwood Library, Adelante, and other stakeholders—have helped to build an all-inclusive culture and recognize the shared responsibility for student performance and development. WMS recognizes that in order to meet the diverse needs of the students and families of this community, the role of the school has to expand beyond traditional definitions of teaching and education.


2020 North Carolina Principal of the Year

Matthew Bristow-Smith

Matthew Bristow-Smith

Edgecombe Early College High School
Tarboro, NC

Grades: 9–13
Students: 200
Region: Rural
@MBristow_Smith

  • Project-based learning
  • Equity through engagement

I am especially passionate about the Edgecombe County Public Schools (ECPS) Scholar Teachers program, a “grow your own” teacher pipeline initiative. The Scholar Teachers program finds talented young people in ECPS high schools who want to become teachers, engages them in specialized coursework and weekly internships in local schools, and provides scholarship support in college coupled with employment opportunities in Edgecombe County upon graduation. Scholar Teachers invests in our young people who want to become educators, then sets them up to reinvest in our school system and community. The program is modeled after the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program; however, the focus is on a local rather than statewide level. Scholar Teachers represents the commitment of ECPS to look inward to solve systemic challenges such as teacher attrition, knowing that our children are our greatest asset.


2020 North Dakota Principal of the Year

Terry T. Bentz

Terry T. Bentz

Grant County High School
Elgin, ND

Grades: 7–12
Students: 80
Region: Rural
@bentz_terry

  • School culture
  • Relationship building

As a principal of my school for the past 26 years, I have shaped the school culture among students. Several activities that I started in our school are Coyote Advisor Time (CAT) and Coyote Pals. First, in the CAT program, a number of students are randomly grouped together and placed with an adult advisor. These students meet together to work on various projects that are decided on by the group, engaging in relationship building and teamwork to complete the activities. Second, in the Coyote Pals program, the CAT groups are strategically matched with an elementary class. The purpose of this activity is to have older students and younger students working together. Last, I recently implemented “Sources of Strength” in our school. The main goal is to foster well-being of ALL students and provide hope and good feelings toward each other and their school.


2020 Ohio Principal of the Year

Jeffrey Legan

Jeffrey Legan

Mayfield High School
Mayfield Village, OH

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,499
Region: Suburban
@WildcatMHS

  • Relationship building/culture
  • Curriculum

For the past four years, we have been able to personalize instruction for all students in a deep, authentic way while removing the barrier of time and allowing students more voice and choice in their learning. In December 2017, we had a critical staff meeting that set the stage for personalization. The meeting began with the following reflective question: “What skills are critical for the success of our students that will contribute to their success in life after high school?” This question was analyzed by our staff, students, and parents. Based on their feedback, we created our “why,” which has led us to create a full self-paced learning framework for students in grades 9–12—allowing them to learn the academic and soft skills necessary to be successful. Additionally, students can choose to learn in a traditional setting our in a blended model.


2020 Oklahoma Principal of the Year

Chris LeGrande

Chris LeGrande

Guthrie High School
Guthrie, OK

Grades: 9–12
Students: 948
Region: Suburban
@Chris_MLeGrande

  • Positive school culture
  • Advocating on state and national levels for public education

In order to meet the individual needs of students at Guthrie High School, we have been bold in our approach to include remediation/enrichment time in our daily bell schedule. After attending a state conference in which 2015 NASSP National Principal of the Year Jayne Ellspermann spoke of the successes of her school’s “Power Hour,” our leadership team crafted a plan to replicate a similar initiative. Because a large percentage of our student population are bus riders and/or children who work to support their families, we searched for a means to provide needed emotional and instructional support for our kids. With a single 55-minute lunch period, we have been able to cultivate meaningful relationships, offer tutorial assistance, encourage social interaction, and provide meeting time for clubs and organizations while maintaining the sacredness of the instructional day. Power Hour has empowered faculty, staff, and students to be successful!


2020 Oregon Principal of the Year

Matt Thatcher

Matt Thatcher

Cascade High School
Turner, OR

Grades: 9–12
Students: 750
Region: Suburban

  • Establishing an incredibly positive school culture
  • Hiring great staff and allowing them the freedom to thrive

One of the recent highlights at Cascade High School is that 97 percent of our freshman are on track to graduate. Through our Freshman Focus courses, a staffwide commitment to success for all students, and a school climate and culture that is recognized statewide, we have ensured that virtually all ninth graders that walk through our doors will begin high school successfully. This has translated into one of the highest graduation rates in the state.


2020 Pennsylvania Principal of the Year

Richard M. Gordon IV

Richard M. Gordon IV

Paul Robeson High School for Human Services
Philadelphia, PA

Grades: 9–12
Students: 315
Region: Urban

  • Relationship building
  • Student engagement

The 2019–20 school year has been upended by the outbreak of COVID-19, social unrest and violence, and the transition to remote learning. In December 2019, one of our 11th-grade students was shot and almost died in southwest Philadelphia. COVID-19 shut down our school in March of 2020, and in May, another one of our 11th-grade students was shot and killed in west Philadelphia. Despite these tragedies, I used what we learned from each experience to strengthen our remote learning academics/instructional delivery and bolstered our assistive support services to our struggling families (raising funds to help families defray household/hospital/funeral costs and providing student mental health/wellness therapeutics). Our school’s successful blueprint this year for strengthening our 1:1 technological infrastructure supporting students’ needs resulted in 99 percent of our students on track for graduation and for meeting grade promotion requirements.


2020 Rhode Island Principal of the Year

Craig MacKenzie

Craig MacKenzie

Chariho Regional High School
Wood River Jt, RI

Grades: 9–12
Students: 1,114
Region: Rural
@dflamturnover

Last year, as part of an XQ grant to reimagine high school, we piloted imagine/immersion experiences that partnered our rural students with Hope High School, an urban sister school. Students shadowed each other at school and visited Brown University and the University of Rhode Island to imagine living and learning in other environments, including postsecondary institutions. We have applied for service-learning grants with our sister school in hopes of developing cultural competency and a shared sense of purpose among students from diverse communities and backgrounds. This pilot project is the first of many that promote exposures and applied learning experiences that ready our rural, homogeneous community for success in a diverse world. We have formalized sister school relationships with No. 1 High School in Liuyang, China, and with Silver Lake Regional High School in Kingston, MA, to elevate our students’ understanding of others and appreciation of diverse cultures and communities.


2020 South Carolina Principal of the Year

Sonya Murrah Bryant

Sonya Murrah Bryant

Batesburg-Leesville High School
Batesburg-Leesville, SC

Grades: 9–12
Students: 550
Region: Rural
@sonyabryant

  • Student-centered
  • Public education particlarly in rural areas

Culture is vision realized. Nothing impacts the success of a school like its culture. I returned three years ago to my hometown to become principal of the school where I began my teaching career. I walked out of the door in May of 1997 and did not return until July 2017. Upon entering the building, I was immediately taken aback by how little had changed in those 20 years. I knew immediately that my vision for the work we would do here would come to life as we built a culture that would be student-centered and demand academic excellence. In three years, we have developed a culture where students are at the center of every decision made. Through our response to intervention program designed especially for our students, we are achieving academic success that has never been seen at our school.


2020 South Dakota Principal of the Year

Kyley W. Cumbow

Kyley W. Cumbow

Georgia Morse Middle School
Pierre, SD

Grades: 6–8
Students: 700
Region: Rural

  • Observations
  • Relationship building

I value people and relationships, so the No. 1 priority are my relationships with staff, students, and families. Building a positive school culture and effective partnership with the community are important to me. This is exemplified in Georgia Morse Middle School’s new teacher mentor program, the Teammates student mentor program, family dinners and organized events, student volunteer opportunities, and avenues to ensure that student voices are being heard. Building a positive culture is a task that is invested in each day and with each person I meet.


2020 Tennessee Principal of the Year

Michele Webb

Michele Webb

Henry County High School
Paris, TN

Grades: 10–12
Students: 990
Region: Rural
@MicheleCainWebb

  • Dual-enrollment offerings
  • Whole-campus writing strategies

Leading learning from a principal’s perspective can include both the learning of students as well as the learning of teachers. As educators, it is essential to continue growing in our craft. Two years ago at Henry County High School (HCHS), and as a direct result of attending a session at the 2018 National Principals Conference in Chicago, Instructional Collaborative groups were formed. These groups are now the driving force of teacher meetings and serve as a source of regular professional development. Each Instructional Collaborative is a group of eight to 10 teachers from varying departments and includes a member of the school leadership team, a literacy lead, and a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) lead. Time is devoted monthly to discuss submitted and STEAM tasks, Advancement Via Individual Determination strategies, and peer-to-peer feedback from observations. Teacher-leaders facilitating learning among their peers through Instructional Collaboratives is a highlight of teacher learning at HCHS!


2020 Texas Principal of the Year

Jill Stafford

Jill Stafford

Lowery Freshman Center
Allen, TX

Grades: 9
Students: 1,834
Region: Suburban
@jill325

  • Doing the right thing, even when difficult
  • Embracing innovation in the classroom

After recognizing a need to better support the emotional wellness of our students and to promote a sense of community and collaboration, my personal success story is developing the Connections program at Lowery Freshman Center. Connections is an intentional academic break during the school day, designed to establish relationships between students and teachers and further the focus on the whole child. The program has three critical components: the student-to-teacher relationship, the student-to-student relationship, and the freshman-to-upperclassmen mentor relationship. These relationships, along with purposeful activities, aim to foster care, challenge growth, expand possibilities, and promote self-efficacy in order for each student to become effective and engaged citizens. These layers of dynamic support result in a better sense of community and lasting effects that permeate all throughout the Lowery culture. Connections has created a safe, supportive, and encouraging space where students feel valued.


2020 Utah Principal of the Year

Paula Logan

Paula Logan

Butler Middle School
Cottonwood Heights, UT

Grades: 6–8
Students: 946
Region: Suburban
@ButlerMiddleUT

  • Literacy
  • Middle school teaming

I believe in the power of efficacy. I chartered a path for my district to implement middle level teaming and improve the outcomes for all stakeholders. Incorporating a master schedule to accommodate common planning, a Friday late start for teacher collaboration, and student academic teams are some of the structures that allow the teachers to focus on implementing research-based practices to reach all students. I worked with groups of teachers and administrators to implement, reflect, and revise these efforts. Team-building activities, proactive circles, and social-emotional learning happen in classrooms and also with my staff. After working together to identifying their goal, the staff implemented reading strategies in every classroom. I often demonstrate those strategies in faculty meetings and teacher trainings. Reading scores and growth have increased every year and the whole school celebrates that achievement.


2020 Vermont Principal of the Year

Sarah M. Pickering

Sarah M. Pickering

Arlington Memorial High School
Arlington, VT

Grades: 6­­–12
Students: 204
Region: Rural
@AMHSPrincipal

  • Building relationships
  • Community of learners

A new monthly ritual was established at a school to build a stronger culture throughout the learning community. Each month a schoolwide meeting, in the form of an assembly, was planned with the intent to focus on important topics to the overall growth of the school. These topics varied from norm-building to athletic competitions, academic recognition, and greater community philanthropy. One of the highlights over the years was the communitywide event, Brave the Shave, to support cancer research. With learners and adults involved in the planning and implementation of the assembly, the culture shifted to an environment of frequent collaboration, high accountability, and great respect.


2020 West Virginia Principal of the Year

John B. Conrad

John B. Conrad

Westwood Middle School
Morgantown, WV

Grades: 6–8
Students: 349
Region: Rural
@johnrad80

  • Transformational leadership
  • Digital/remote learning

Leadership is empowering others. Last year I challenged my teachers to do bold things to engage our students and our community. My social studies teachers came up with a terrific idea of having a schoolwide celebration of patriotism on September 11, 2019 by commemorating and remembering those affected by 9/11, while also specifically celebrating our first responders. Ultimately, this turned into a schoolwide event where students, teachers, and service personnel shaped the day. We had a flag lowering and raising ceremony to begin the day. Lessons for classes complimented the day’s theme. The afternoon portion of our events was a carousel of three main opportunities where students could speak to and listen to two guests who had firsthand experiences of 9/11, and students could choose to learn about specific aspects of 9/11. We ended with a ceremony where local first responders were celebrated. My school knocked my goals out of the park!


2020 Wisconsin Principal of the Year

Eitan Benzaquen

Hillcrest School
Kenosha, WI

Grades: 6–12
Students: 100
Region: Urban

  • Advocating for marginalized students
  • Advocating for students with disabilities

 

 

Walking into Hillcrest School years ago as principal, some students were actually being handcuffed and arrested out of classes, staff members were scared for their safety, and the school had experienced three principal changes in two years. Staff didn’t get along with one another, were upset with kids constantly, felt the system was failing, and were negative; it was toxic. Together we learned about strategies and programs such as trauma-informed care, changing mindset, positive behavioral interventions and supports, response to intervention, collaborative coaching, nonviolent crisis intervention, gang diversion, self-care, mindfulness, and more. Community impact programs like the Department of Children and Families work at Hillcrest. Hillcrest has school staff and agency staff working within the building together to help the children and families at school and in the community. We know and feel our shared commitment to saving our students; we learned and taught each other. Hillcrest—through students, staff, partners, and families—is where miracles happen.


2020 Wyoming Principal of the Year

Jeff Makelky

Jeff Makelky

Big Piney High School
Big Piney, WY

Grades: 9–12
Students: 180
Region: Rural

  • Creating a collaborative culture within the school
  • Providing effective feedback to teachers

As a high school principal, what do you hope your legacy to be? When asked this question, my response is immediate and always the same. I want to be remembered as an instructional leader who successfully facilitated the collaboration of individual teachers to come together and share their talents for the benefit of our students. One successful example of this teamwork is the improvement in our school’s literacy efforts. After examining the data on our school’s reading scores, I made the decision to make this our most critical area of improvement. Through the partnership with the University of Wyoming’s Literacy Center and my commitment to improve literacy, we have developed a participatory approach to improving literacy where every teacher has assumed the role of a reading teacher within their discipline. No longer do we rely only on English language arts teachers to develop literacy skills within our students.