Nation's Top Principals Recognized for Innovations and Impact

One has introduced "genius hour" to give students "a weekly opportunity" to "unleash their creativity through projects, performances and presentations in an area of interest." Another has begun introducing the school to competency-based education. A third has encouraged his teachers to reach out to other educators via social media. And a fourth wrote grants to secure funding for classroom technologies. These are all examples of the activities undertaken by principals in pursuit of student achievement. All will shortly be recognized by their peers for their "outstanding leadership" as "National Distinguished Principals."

The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) has released the list of this year's honorees, school leaders who have influenced the students and schools where they serve.

Paula Tseunis, principal at Sierra Verde Elementary School in Glendale, AZ, for example, spearheaded a three-year project to enhance science education through project-based learning. The Sierra Verde Outdoor Academy has partnered with other organizations in the community to create outdoor learning spaces, including a desert tortoise habitat, an outdoor STEM lab and a "simple machines" art garden. The school also hosts a regional STEM conference and runs annual STEM night events.

Marcia Reed, head of 186th Street Elementary School in Gardena, CA, has teamed up with Loyola Marymount University to motivate her students to take college and career seriously. A team of doctors from the Harbor UCLA Medical Center taught "a mini-medical magnet program," including taking students on hospital visits to see medical rotations. Reed also worked with Toyota to bring its engineers in to teach students to build toy cars.

Lisa Pica, principal at Hayden Meadows Elementary School in Hayden, ID, wrote the grants needed to secure funding for technologies for her school, which included iPads, Chromebooks, a mobile computer lab and interactive whiteboards.

Brad Gustafson, principal at Greenwood Elementary School in Plymouth, MN, uses live-streaming to broadcast school events, including concerts, geography bees, parent meetings and assemblies. He has replaced the traditional principal newsletter with a student podcast that's posted to YouTube for sharing with families. Students have gained access to drones and robotic droids. The cafeteria features a DJ-hosted program. And an augmented reality art gallery shows student work linked to videos of them explaining their design process. He's also inspired his staff to reach out to other teachers around the country via Voxer, Twitter, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Skype.

Kimberly Lyndes, head of Dover Middle School in New Hampshire, worked with her district's curriculum director to convert a standard study skills class into a computer resource course and a technology education class into a STEM-based program. She also choreographed course scheduling to make room for teacher teams to get common planning time and has introduced programs for response to intervention (RTI) and positive behavioral interventions & support (PBIS) as well as a STEAM academy and a shift toward competency-based education.

Steve Carlson, who leads Judy Nelson Elementary School in Kirtland, NM, initiated genius hour and has watched as fourth-graders produce videos and sixth-graders record lessons to teach their grade-level peers. To help his teachers make the transition to Common Core, he hired a trainer to guide them in best practices for teaching new material to show them how their students could persevere and make sense of math problems without relying on a set procedure or algorithm.

These school leaders and 52 others like them will be honored during an NAESP's award ceremony in October, which takes place in Washington, D.C., during "National Principals Month." The recipients of the award were selected by NAESP state affiliates and by committees representing private and overseas schools.

"Principals are uniquely positioned to impact the academic, social and emotional success of all students," said Executive Director Gail Connelly in a prepared statement. "These exceptional leaders have proven their commitment to providing a high-quality, well-rounded education in their schools."

The complete list of recipients and their profiles are available on the NAESP website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.