School & District Management

Ed. Dept. Recognizes 9 Principals for Leadership Under ‘Challenging Circumstances’

By Denisa R. Superville — October 20, 2022 2 min read
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An Alabama principal who raised both math and English scores at her elementary school.

An Oklahoma school leader who revamped how his school used data to push students to grow academically.

And a Florida high school principal who expanded extracurricular activities for students at her Catholic school, while adding more academic options such as pre-med and pre-law.

They’re among the nine principals who lead National Blue Ribbon Schools and were named this week by the U.S. Department of Education as winners of the Terrel H. Bell Awards for Outstanding School Leadership.

The award, named after Bell, a former education secretary in the Reagan administration who started the Blue Ribbon Schools Program, spotlights principals who lead successful schools, often in trying conditions, according to the Education Department.

The award is a collaboration between the department, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the Association for Middle Level Education, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. It recognizes both private and public school leaders.

The honorees include leaders like Julie Scott, the principal of R. L. Wright Elementary School, in Sedgwick, Kan., who spent time listening to teachers and the community to understand their needs when she first arrived. That led to Scott developing professional learning committees for the school’s teachers and paraprofessionals. She also meets weekly with 4th, 5th and 6th graders on a principal advisory team.

James Sonju, the principal of Lincoln K-8 School in Rochester, Minn., created a STEM focus in his school and worked with the Mayo Clinic to change the way the school approached science instruction.

In addition to Scott and Sonju, this year’s winners are:

  • Brigett Stewart, Piedmont Elementary School, Piedmont, Ala.;
  • Miguel Marco, Wittmann Elementary School, Cerritos, Calif.;
  • Denise Aloma, St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.;
  • Linda Bevil, James B. Eads Elementary School, Munster, Ind.;
  • Catherine Bricelj, Myrtle Place Elementary School, Lafayette, La.;
  • Ryan Ambrose, Checotah Intermediate Elementary School, Checotah, Okla.; and
  • Mahri Aste, Mosaic Elementary School, Fairfax, Va.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, a former principal and state schools’ chief in Connecticut, said he understands the important role principals “play in shaping school culture and welcoming learning environments, improving student achievement outcomes, and empowering teachers to meet the needs of their students.”

This year’s leaders “have raised the bar for building positive school climates, increasing achievement, and finding creative ways to nurture, engage, and support students, families, educators, and school staff,” Cardona said in a release, announcing the winners.

“At a time when principals and other school leaders face many challenges, from addressing students’ unmet mental health needs to accelerating their academic recovery from the pandemic, the Department of Education is proud to recognize the essential work they do each day.”

The school leaders will receive their awards at an event next month, as part of a ceremony honoring this year’s Blue Ribbon Schools.

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