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2017 Terrel H. Bell Awards

The 2017 recipients of the Terrel H. Bell award for outstanding leadership will be honored Monday afternoon, November 6, at the annual National Blue Ribbon Schools ceremony. Click here to learn about the eight awardees.

2017 Awards Ceremony

The 2017 National Blue Ribbon Schools Awards ceremony brought nearly 1,000 administrators and teachers together for a two-day meeting of celebration and connection. Ceremony videos and transcripts are available below.

Ceremony Award Photos


Tuesday Sessions 

“When You Know Better, You Do Better”: Diane Watkins and Stephanie Johnson

Photo of Johnson and Watkins
Stephanie D. B. Johnson (L) and Diane C. Watkins drew on years of leadership in Chesapeake Public Schools to highlight ways to deal with difficult staff members sensitively yet effectively.

The duo (yes, they sing) of former principals Diane Watkins and Stephanie Johnson presented a funny yet serious talk on dealing with demanding, blaming, and otherwise unpleasant people. Through slides and video clips they outlined their taxonomy of the Top 10 Difficult Types of school people and emphasized the importance of confronting negativity quickly.They offered two mnemonics to keep the confrontation helpful and kind. When giving feedback, they suggested GIVES: Growth-oriented, Instructionally sound, Valuing strengths and preserving dignity, Evidence-based, and of appropriate Scope. Their related mnemonic for kindness was GIFT, or the ability to respond positively to everyone, even those one doesn’t care for. “Do you have the GIFT?” they stressed.  

Participants praised the humor the two used to make their points. Among the many practical tips the two offered, two highly popular ones, based on participant “exit tickets, were:

  • Take and prominently display a “Family Photo”—an image of the entire staffinently
  • Consider the impact of “the face in the mirror”–the principal him or herself– as a positive or negative force in school life.

Access Watkins and Johnson’s PowerPoint slides here.

Life After National Blue Ribbon: Dr. Sheila Harrity

Photo of Sheila Harrity
Dr. Sheila Harrity followed her success in transforming one Massachusetts technical high school by assuming leadership of another. Both are now state and national models of excellence.

Dr. Sheila Harrity, 2013 National High School Principal of the Year for her leadership of Worcester (MA) Technical High School, a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School, shared her post-National Blue Ribbon School Award experience. It was a time to set new challenges, she recalled, to ask, “What’s next?”

Today the Superintendent-Director of Montachusett  Regional Vocational Technical School (Fitchburg, MA) and a member of the state Board of Education, Dr. Harrity described the challenges and obstacles she overcame to take on new leadership roles.

Participants left the session inspired and motivated, they noted. Specific actions they identified as “next steps” for them included

  • Stay true to students’ interests and needs.
  • Think big, persevere, and take risks: “Never be content.”
  • Build partnerships with local businesses, institutions of higher education, and other stakeholders to access resources and increase visibility: “Always ask.”
  • Stay positive, compassionate; Rise “above the muck.”

Access Dr. Harrity’s PowerPoint slides here.

Powerful Home-School Partnerships: Sarah Hughes

Photo of people in a workshop
Participants at a workshop on home-school partnerships reviewed research and discussed best practices.

Sarah Hughes, a Senior Research Associate from RMC Research, facilitated an interactive roundtable on home-school partnerships, from challenges to effective strategies.

Participants valued the opportunity to hear from and exchange ideas with other school representatives in structured format. Specific ideas noted by participants include: 

  • Use social media to engage families and feature positive school messages.
  • Be proactive rather than reactive.
  • Hold regular grade-level family nights.
  • Create smaller, more inviting opportunities to engage families and build relationships.
  • Channel families’ strengths, assets, and talents–move from a deficit to an asset focus.
  • Have students lead conferences.
  • Conduct formative family-student-school conference early to set goals and reach agreement on how to achieve them.
  • Think carefully and often about who is missing and how they can be involved.

Access the session PowerPoint here.

Making the Most of the National Blue Ribbon School Award: Annette Jones, Gabrielle Gallagher, and Victor Pellechia

Annette Jones Photo
Annette Jones and Gabrielle Gallagher of NCEA and principal Victor Pellechia (Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Ellicott City, MD) tapped their experience as principals for strategies to attract attention and resources to NBRS schools.

Annette Jones, Assistant Director of Leadership Development, and Gabrielle Gallagher, Assistant Director of Marketing Communications, both of the National Catholic Education Association, were joined by Victor Pellechia, principal of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, to share strategies for making the most of the prestigious National Blue Ribbon School recognition. Drawing on first-hand experiences, they offered ideas for celebrating the honor-–within the school and with the local community, the state, and international audiences-–as well as guides for developing marketing action plans.

Participants reported finding the session helpful and “eye-opening.” Key take-aways include:

  • Keep all messaging consistent.
  • Use the NBRS “brand”on school materials, the website, and social media.
  • Incorporate NBRS in naming events.
  • Involve local businesses, community organizations, parents, public officials, and media in celebrating the award.
  • Thank everyone involved in the school’s achievement–teachers, staff members, parents, current and previous students, and local stakeholders.

Access the presentation PowerPoint here.

Jo-Ellen Connolly, Principal, Colliers Primary School – Colliers, WV

Jo-Ellen Connolly PhotoIn a community beset by poverty, loss of jobs, and opioid addiction, Principal Jo-Ellen Connolly placed a stake in the ground: “It is the school’s responsibility,” she said, to help students overcome obstacles in their lives that inhibit their ability to engage successfully with school. Drawing on research that establishes basic needs—food, clothing, and a sense of feeling safe—as prerequisite to academic success, Principal Connolly engaged the local community of businesses and religious institutions to step up for her students.

Many Colliers students are from high-poverty single parent homes or are being raised by extended family members. To aid students’ social and emotional development, Principal Connolly initiated programs to promote more positive male and female role models. The Papa Bears program brings fathers in to spend a day with students and promote education and positive adult-child relationships. The Mama Bears program places volunteers in classrooms to facilitate learning. With the help of a local church, she initiated a “Food for Ewe” weekend backpack program, providing weekend meals and snacks so that students do not go hungry. The school’s clothes closet, filled with seasonal clothing, sees regular use.  Another community resource provides meals for students in an after-school tutoring program.

Evidence that attending to students’ physical and emotional needs aids academic achievement is clear: more than two-thirds of 3rd and 4th graders scored proficient in ELA and nearly two-thirds were proficient in math; 93% of fourth graders increased their reading scores over the previous year, as did 87% their math scores. Colliers has earned recognition as a West Virginia School of Excellence and a Title I Distinguished School.

To keep students engaged in literacy, Principal Connolly sets whole-school reading goals, with awards such as shirts and book bags. At weekly morning school-wide assemblies, students are recognized for their achievements—in and out of school—the school body reviews the Colliers Top 10 Rules, and students lead both the Pledge of Allegiance and the school pledge. Each week, one classroom earns the “Golden Trash Can” award from the custodial staff, reinforcing the importance of working as a team and pride in their school.

High standards challenge students to achieve while teachers offer support through differentiated instruction and interventions. A designated intervention period is structured into the school schedule. Every student has an individual Student Learning Plan which travels with the student from grade to grade to encourage consistency among teachers. Student achievement and effort are celebrated at academic pep rallies and students are urged to compete in Math Field Days and the district Spelling Bee.

Teachers participate in workshops and PD on the opioid crisis and other poverty-related hardships in addition to pedagogical enrichment. Teachers are included in decision-making about new programs and initiatives and have the flexibility to innovate in their classroom teaching.

A newsletter keeps parents informed about academic and social successes while the school’s website is regularly updated to let the community know of happenings at the school.  A county all-call system enables Principal Connolly to communicate with parents and guardians at a moment’s notice. Principal Connolly was a founding member of the Colliers Alumni and Friends Association, which recognizes fourth grade students and gives a scholarship annually to a high school senior who attended Colliers Primary. She also lends her energies to special fund-raisers for families with extraordinary needs, raising more than $16,000 for a family with a medical emergency.

Principal Connolly ensures that the school-community relationship is two-way. She supports numerous Fire Department fund-raisers and holds an outdoor Memorial Day event for the whole community. Colliers students lead the Pledge of Allegiance, recite the Gettysburg Address, and read patriotic poems, after which community members are invited into the school for refreshments. Community members are also invited to the school during the holidays for refreshments and an annual Craft Show.

Paul Covey, Principal, Valle Verde Early College High School – El Paso, TX

Paul Covey PhotoWhen Valle Verde Early College High School (VVECHS) opened in 2007, it was one of the first of its kind in Texas. Today, such schools are an established option, but Principal Paul Covey was working with a new idea, in a challenging context: with nearly three-quarters of students from economically disadvantaged homes, more than half of the students would be the first in their families to attend college. Furthermore, professors at El Paso Community College (EPCC) were reluctant to have high school students in their college classes, some individuals feared that VVECHS would “steal” talented students from other district schools, and parents worried that their children would not be able to perform at college level while in high school.

A former assistant principal and principal of a middle school, Principal Covey is guided by an unwavering commitment to communication: before formulating any action steps, he listens deeply and widely to stakeholders.

To win over EPCC faculty, Principal Covey and his staff met with professors, attended faculty meetings, and introduced high school students slowly, a few classes at a time, to demonstrate that high school students could master the coursework and be positive additions to college classes. He listened to school board and district concerns, then brought officials to campus to see how well the school worked and to hear from students about VVECHS’s impact on them. He used a similar approach with parents, meeting parents of every new class of students before school starts, and holding monthly meetings of parents, administrators, and teachers. VVECHS alumni and their parents weighed in with compelling personal stories.

A further challenge was the campus, spread over 32 portable buildings. Space is a constant issue: parent meetings are held off-campus and all-school meetings take place on the front lawn. Without space for traditional high school sports, Principal Covey and his staff started a cross country running team.

He also turned to technology to expand student opportunities: every student receives a digital device, with encouragement to be used both as a resource and a creative platform. Teachers are encouraged to pursue professional development on the latest best technology practices in the classroom and students are accustomed to incorporating technology into their everyday learning. Principal Covey now leads a Technology Cadre that presents on using technology in the classroom in El Paso and throughout the state.

To prepare students for an ambitious curriculum, Principal Covey created a “College Transition” course to support Valley Verde students as they took classes at EPCC. The course covers such as time management, textbook reading, note-taking, handling college projects, and communicating with college professors. He modified the VVECHS schedule in accordance with the college schedule so that the high school students can be immersed in the college environment. Principal Covey credits these steps, along with tutoring and AVID, for figures such as the 85% of seniors who earn Associate of Arts degrees alongside high school diplomas, and the 93% of seniors who go on to four-year colleges and universities.

Because the normal stresses of adolescence are exacerbated by the challenge of completing six years of schooling in four, Principal Covey ensured that students would have access to a full-time counselor and a part-time social worker; the counselor works with students one-on-one while the social worker provides campus-wide programs to help students deal with stress. Both have connections to community programs and refer students to them as needed.

Because much student learning occurs outside the classroom, Principal Covey has led efforts to create more than 35 clubs at VVECHS and opportunities for students to join organizations on the community college campus. Students have risen to the occasion, participating in college arts events and productions, editing the college newspaper, and serving as officers in college student clubs, including the Honor Society and Phi Theta Kappa.

Ursula Annio, Principal, P.S. 748 Brooklyn School for Global Scholars – Brooklyn, NY

Photo of Ursula AnnioUrsula Annio has been the principal of P.S. 748, Brooklyn School for Global Scholars, since it opened in 2010. As the founder of the school, Principal Annio designed P.S. 748 as a choice application school for gifted and talented students, including special needs students, with a focus on promoting global citizenship and developing the whole child. Principal Annio hired staff and teachers uniquely suited to the school’s focus and interested in a collaborative working environment grounded in high expectations. Working as a team, Principal Annio and the new staff developed a school curriculum rooted in rigorous state learning standards. They also worked to develop a project-based learning model, bolstered by robust enrichment opportunities.

Principal Annio does not see herself, or the role of a principal, as primarily administrative. Rather, she understands the role of principal is to serve as collaborator, facilitator, instructional leader, motivator, and innovator. This leadership approach became crucial when the school experienced a significant shift in 2012.

That year, due to overcrowding in the district, Principal Annio was informed that P.S. 748 would need to transform from a choice application school for gifted and talented students to a zoned school, with a highly diverse and higher needs student population.  Committed to the school’s philosophy of high expectations and global citizenship, Principal Annio worked with her staff to adjust the curriculum and instructional approaches with an eye toward the school’s new student population. Together, they established three core student values that would underpin the work: develop persistence and patience while problem-solving, learn today and lead tomorrow, and pay it forward.  She led the school not only through a revision of instructional practices and programs, but in creating a schoolwide mindset to support the whole child, building on teacher strengths, and engaging families and the community.

Principal Annio’s approach to professional development focused on empowering teachers as innovators and collaborators. In partnership with her assistant principal, she set up common planning times and ensured ongoing and meaningful professional development opportunities to meet the needs of individual staff members. For example, to strengthen the team work done during vertical team planning times, Principal Annio employed a “May Mix-up” initiative where teachers switch classrooms with teachers a grade above or below them. This initiative provided teachers a new way to understand the continuum of learning and development and provided context for understanding the value of vertical alignment. Upon careful study of the common core learning standards, she and her team departmentalized grades 3-5, allowing teachers to deepen their instructional practice, take ownership and focus on subjects they are most passionate about to strengthen student learning and outcomes. This move further complimented the school’s project based, interdisciplinary instructional approach which integrates science and social studies content into literacy and math instruction.

Principal Annio doesn’t see the students in the building solely as learners; she sees them as members of families, communities, and society. Students are encouraged to act as global citizens and are rewarded for demonstrating positive behavior and civic excellence. She has expanded the school to the community by setting up parent academies to help family members understand the curriculum, support children’s social and emotional well-being, and to encourage their learning at home. In line with the school’s philosophy to nurture global citizenship, Principal Annio hosts family events and special school activities designed to recognize and celebrate the diversity represented in the school community.

Principal Annio’s leadership guided P.S. 748 through a significant transition by strengthening others around her and never wavering in her belief that all children are global citizens.

Michael J. Fiorello, Principal, Berkeley Avenue Elementary School – Westwood, NJ

Photo of Michael J. FiorelloIf you had to sum up Principal Fiorello’s leadership style in one word, it would be collaborative. To provide exceptional educational opportunities to all students, Principal Fiorello leveraged the entire community to help level the playing field for children attending Berkeley Avenue Elementary School, adopting the “Berkeley Way.”

When Michael Fiorello became principal at Berkeley Avenue Elementary in 2009 the school was a demographic outlier in that it was the most ethnically, linguistically, and socioeconomically diverse elementary school in an affluent and high-achieving district. Berkeley School was often considered a “challenge.” Principal Fiorello saw it a different way. He recognized the school’s diversity as a benefit, rather than a challenge, and began his tenure by taking a closer look at needs and resources.

What Principal Fiorello discovered was a gap between what was needed to provide an exceptional educational experience for all children and the resources available to the school. His primary goal was to collaborate with school faculty, central office administration, the school board, and the community to leverage, reallocate, and obtain resources to introduce several initiatives and staff to match student needs and increase overall rigor. For example, he campaigned for additional teaching staff and bilingual teachers, helped secure ESSA allocations to support specialized staff and programs for children in need, provided supplemental educational technology, and obtained grant monies for special projects to support health and wellness.

Careful not to impose new ideas or programs onto staff without their support, Principal Fiorello took a team approach to introduce a combination of specialized programs for students and professional development for teachers to strengthen teaching and learning. In doing so, he implemented a daily “Breakfast Club” before school for students and “Homework Club” twice a week after school to reinforce skills and concepts from regular classroom lessons. Principal Fiorello and his staff also pioneered the implementation of mindfulness training, learning alongside staff so he could also serve as one of the trained facilitators. Now, students participate in mindfulness guided exercises throughout the day—a practice that is considered a learning tool at Berkeley.

Principal Fiorello assisted staff in implementing differentiation strategies and supported co-teaching models to strengthen teaching practice and meet the needs of all students in the school. He empowered teachers to use multiple teaching strategies and approaches to suit the needs of students, whether they were performing above or below grade-level expectations. They were also encouraged to collaborate and share strategies through weekly and monthly grade-level teams. As a Professional Development School, Berkeley also provided teachers with embedded opportunities for instructional feedback and planning from Professors in Residence mentors through a co-teaching model in partnership with nearby universities.

To celebrate the school community’s diversity, Principal Fiorello recognized the need to more fully cultivate cultural awareness and acceptance into the school’s culture and educational approach. He and his ELL team established multicultural nights, monthly English language learner parent meetings, multicultural read-alouds, and conducted outreach activities to increase parent engagement, such as Latino Literacy and Technology classes for parents. With the goal of helping all parents feel welcomed and supported by the school, he increased the number of bilingual instructional staff and hired a bilingual school secretary to ensure non-English speaking families feel part of the school community.

The “Berkeley Way” is, simply, doing whatever is needed for all children to thrive. By thoughtfully embracing the school’s diverse student population and working closely with the entire school community to create robust, meaningful learning opportunities, Principal Fiorello has helped chart the “Berkeley Way.”

Glenda McFadden, Principal, Nashua Catholic Regional Junior High School – Nashua, NH

Glenda McFadden PhotoWhen Glenda McFadden began as the principal of the Nashua Catholic Regional Junior High School in 2013, she knew that drastic changes were needed to prepare students for new rigors of high school and beyond.

Having served the school as a theology and math teacher for fourteen years prior to becoming principal, she recognized the need for higher teacher morale and collegiality among staff. Using a transformational leadership style designed to promote teacher and staff empowerment, she employed programs and practices to establish a clear mission, strengthen teacher practice, provide opportunities for growth, and foster collaboration.

The first two goals Principal McFadden set were team building and developing trust. By supporting leadership and professional development opportunities for staff, she saw a path to shifting the overall culture of the school toward improved academic, social, and emotional outcomes. With nothing significant in place when she took the role, she quickly implemented several programs to meet the needs of all staff. She developed a mentoring program for new teachers in the school, which served as a job-embedded opportunity to instill trust among teachers. She also sought and received Title II funding to support long-needed professional development training to staff based on the school’s specific needs.

Slowly, teachers were empowered to provide in-house workshops to colleagues and to create new programs for students, including a STEAM program. Boosting professional development opportunities were only part of the plan. Principal McFadden put systems in place to foster collaboration and sharing. For example, she updated the format and framework of curriculum and instruction lesson plans, connected plans to in-depth yearly assessment reviews, and created planned grade and department meetings.

She connected with feeder schools and area Catholic high schools to ensure vertical alignment and continuity. She also implemented the use of a comprehensive survey to learn more from parents, students, teachers, staff, and board members about what was working with the school and what needed to be improved.

As leader of a school with limited resources, Principal McFadden was eager to build school capacity using what was available until grander plans could be realized. In lieu of being able to hire an assistant principal, for example, she created leadership opportunities for staff through the Aspiring Leadership Institute. She currently has a team of two lead teachers who support the work of the school, including supervisory duties and support for academic programming. She has also leveraged a partnership with the school district to meet the needs of students with IEP and 504 plans. Unique to many Catholic schools, she also hired a part-time guidance counselor.

While teachers received the supports they needed to strengthen their skills, Principal McFadden also implemented numerous supports for students. Specifically, she put students at the center and worked to provide interventions to support the unique needs of adolescents. Teachers were guided through book studies to implement instructional and classroom management techniques that support adolescent brain development and better prepare them for high school experiences, such as leadership, student choice, self-awareness activities, peer learning, affective learning, kinetic learning, metacognitive strategies, and real-world experience. She worked with teachers to differentiate instruction to meet individual student needs and incorporated opportunities for movement and stress reduction techniques, which have all helped to reduce the number of written demerits and eradicated office detentions.  She also introduced needed resources to the school, such as, a computer lab, student resource center, and a student leadership classroom.

Principal McFadden could see the need to strengthen academic programs at Nashua Catholic and raised the bar by imposing higher standards, higher expectations, and instructional supports to make it possible.

Kristen Hughes, Principal, White Street Elementary School – Springfield, MA

Kristen Hughes PhotoKristen Hughes was given a special assignment as principal of White Street School in 2013. Located in an urban area plagued by socio-economic struggle, the school was scored a Level IV by the Massachusetts Department of Education in 2010. After years of unsuccessful turnaround work, White Street was on the verge of being taken over by the state. Having had turnaround experience in a similar school, Principal Hughes took the challenge head on. At first glance, what she found was a school culture steeped in low expectations, bad reputation, high staff turn-over, and loss of hope. She began by taking a close look at root causes rather than focusing on surface issues. By getting to know the staff, students, and families and examining the data, what she discovered is what she expected all along: This was a school community that wanted the best for students and a positive school culture, but lacked the framework and supports to make it happen.

Principal Hughes’s guiding principle is that all children—regardless of background or circumstance—have academic potential and a right to a high-quality, free, public education. One of the first things she understood was the need to shift the climate and culture of the school from one of low-expectations to one where staff believed that all children could be successful, where students felt inspired and supported, and where families felt they were heard and understood. She demonstrated for staff that this was possible by providing a comprehensive picture of where White Street students were in comparison with students at her previous school. The students were in fact similar in terms of demographic characteristics, but students at Principal Hughes’s previous school were high-achieving and thriving academically. This instilled a sense of hope among teachers and staff. Principal Hughes set clear expectations and publicly promised the school community that together they would move from an underperforming school to one of the highest performing.

Recognizing that the school did not have the luxury of time, Principal Hughes immediately created horizontal and vertical teams using Professional Learning Communities to promote collaboration and data-based decision-making to benefit students. She quickly established an Instructional Leadership Team to serve as the school’s overarching turnaround team charged with reviewing school data, assessing needs, and developing a plan. She also set up teams to focus on literacy, math, school operations, social emotional supports, and family engagement. The team structure served as a catalyst for collegiality, providing a feedback loop for teachers to strengthen their practice and feel supported in their work.

Principal Hughes analyzed data and conducted a needs assessment with staff to develop a professional development strategy to overhaul curriculum, instruction, and data use. The school staff put student learning at the center, developed a deep understanding of the Common Core standards, became content experts in new curriculum resources, and shifted instructional strategies to meet student needs. Teachers worked in teams to engage in data discussions that included multiple data sources so they could individualize support to students.

The staff at White Street School shifted the classroom environment to foster student engagement through clear and consistent classroom management techniques, such as creating cooperative and accessible learning environments, designing engaging and rigorous learning activities, and communicating expectations with students on a continuous basis.

By the end of Principal Hughes’s first year at the White Street School, the impact of the school’s approach was clear. Staff and students were pleased to see that the shift to a culture of high expectations had made a difference on student achievement. State assessment data improved by double digits in all content areas. After two years, the school moved from the lowest performance category, Level IV, to the highest, Level I.

Robert McBride, Principal, Neuqua Valley High School – Naperville, IL

Robert McBride PhotoLeading a 4000-student, three-building high school during a budget crisis while introducing Common Core standards and closing academic achievement gaps takes a certain kind of steel. Assuming the principalship in 2008, Dr. Robert McBride cut through the obstacles with a message of “simplicity, clarity, and coherence.”

The first step was to identify four key skills students needed to master: developing arguments, acquiring academic vocabulary, making inferences, and drawing conclusions from multiple data points. Across disciplines, grade levels, and buildings, small professional learning communities threaded these skills into everything they taught. The resulting leaps in achievement by students in subgroups of low-income, African American, and special education affirmed the effectiveness of their work.

Now in his tenth year, Principal McBride has overseen seven consecutive years of ACT growth, increased numbers of students, especially minority students, in AP course work and testing, and increased numbers of National Merit Semifinalists.

To address societal challenges and instances of student anxiety, depression, and suicide. Dr. McBride and school staff provided social and emotional safety and support for students. A key step was to tweak the “class house” structure. Students at Neuqua Valley were organized by grade level, each with a dean, a guidance counselor, and a social worker, and students moved from house to house each year. Dr. McBride arranged for house personnel to move with their students too, enabling students to be known by their dean, guidance counselor, and social worker.

He and staff also reformed the discipline structure, adding resources, changing consequences, and partnering with a local youth agency, reducing the number of monthly discipline infractions and suspensions to almost single digits, despite the large student body. To engage parents as part of the “neighborhood,” Dr. McBride founded ParentsMatter Too, a parent network and website. Part of the Naperville non-profit KidsMatter, ParentsMatter Too connects parents to local news and expert resources and engages parents in discussions about teen risk behaviors.  Communications with parents encompass Twitter, phone calls, newsletters, Google, school websites, and invitations to personal tours of the school and frank discussions.

Expanded student leadership roles include opportunities for students to train to lead PE classes as seniors to disabled students, to participate in Student Council, and to take a blended face-to-face and online leadership course.

An online educational consortium among Neuqua Valley and five other area high schools offers students a more individualized experience, and Neuqua Valley students have embraced the opportunity, accounting for three-quarters of online course enrollment. And as the state’s heaviest educational user of Google Drive and Google Suite, Neuqua Valley gives students online access to all coursework and materials through 1:1 devices.

Dr. McBride is also active outside of his high school. He has participated in numerous district level projects and initiatives, including teacher evaluation committees and a grant project with educator Charlotte Danielson. He worked with other district principals to create a summer “bridge” program to ready students for the upcoming school year. At the request of the Regional Superintendent, Dr. McBride has chaired the DuPage County High School Principals since 2009. The Illinois Principals Association recently awarded Dr. McBride the Building Community Bridges Award for his work with ParentsMatter Too.

Embracing Neuqua Valley High School’s long-standing “first-name” culture whole-heartedly, he attends countless school and community events and knows not only students’ names, but their interests and accomplishments.

Sophie Lee, Principal, Sunset Elementary School – San Francisco, CA

Photo of Sophie Lee San Francisco’s Sunset Elementary School was founded in 1996 to accommodate a state-mandated reduction in class size. Assuming leadership six years later, Sophie Lee transformed an “average” school into a high-performing, tech-savvy, multicultural, inclusive community.

Principal Lee introduced the Caring School Community program, which emphasizes community cohesion while honoring student autonomy. Students learn how to set class norms and goals and to empathize with other students. A mentoring “buddy” system strengthens relationships between grades; classes of different grades work on projects together, support each other by attending performances, and go on field trips together. Classroom meetings and restorative circles celebrate successes and enable issues to be resolved collectively. Each week, a Star Student from every class is recognized for demonstrating Sunset’s core values of being Respectful, Responsible, Caring, Fair, Safe, and Helpful, after which the Star Students have lunch with Principal Lee. This special time ensures every student can build a relationship with the principal.

Within the Sunset staff, vertical teams work at K-5 alignment while grade level teams analyze assessment data using district rubrics and share ideas and reflections on curriculum, focal students, and best practices. Twice a month, faculty professional learning meetings equip Sunset teachers with practical skills to evoke student thinking such as wait time, open-ended questions, deep probing, discussion prompts, and cooperative structures such as Turn and Talk. Teachers, district, and community speakers conduct presentations about Reading and Writing Workshop, strategies for English Learners, inclusive practices, and ability awareness, plus other topics. Sunset teachers regularly reclassify English Learners who meet linguistic and academic criteria as fluent English proficient. General education teachers are very receptive to mainstreaming Special Day Class students into their classrooms. Experienced teachers mentor new teachers and assume numerous leadership roles in English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science, as well as the Instructional Leadership Team.

Under Principal Lee’s guidance, a parent-teacher committee developed an Instructional Technology Roadmap to ensure all students learn technology skills, from typing to creating claymation videos. With PTA assistance, Principal Lee procured equipment for a Technology Lab and 1:1 devices for all students. Digital technology has transformed teaching and learning in Special Day classes.

To strengthen arts education, Principal Lee revised the Technology Consultant position to that of a STEAM Consultant. She attended a national Administrators for the Arts program that included visits to museums, classes at dance studios, and bookmaking at a print workshop. The San Francisco Ballet now conducts a school program on site. All students attend classes in drama, visual arts (including ceramics), choral and instrumental music, and contemporary dance, reflecting Principal Lee’s belief that arts enrich the lives of all students.

Principal Lee attends PTA meetings and events and empowers parents with meaningful leadership opportunities. She taps community resources so classroom teachers can give students more individual attention; community members, student teachers, high school students, and parents mentor Sunset students in reading, writing, and academic habits. Beautifying the school environment, parents painted an outdoor mural and worked in the gardens, in addition to volunteering in school. The PTA has underwritten enrichment consultants in art, outdoor science, and technology.

Concurrent with these cultural, academic, and technological advances, Principal Lee spearheaded a “greening” project that engaged parents and a nonprofit in transforming the once-barren concrete schoolyard into a flourishing outdoor Learning Garden with raised garden beds, a greenhouse, a butterfly garden, and native plants and trees. In the gardens, students record science observations while practicing key writing and literacy skills.

Principal Lee’s commitment to public education stems from her own experiences attending San Francisco’s public schools.

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