The nine finalists for 2015 Principal of the Year are all rated in the top 3 tiers of the Principal Excellence Initiative. There are four elementary level finalists, two at the secondary level, and three from magnet and special programs. The winners will be announced at an event to honor their accomplishments Dec. 9.
John Quincy Adams Principal Nancy Bernardino lives by the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” As leader of the southeast Dallas campus, she seeks to surround her students with a similar circle of support.
“I know that I cannot do it alone,” she said. “It takes a village: parents, teachers, support staff and community members working together to nurture, motivate, and inspire a child.”
A self-described servant leader, Bernardino makes it a priority to educate parents to help them become effective advocates for their children. She hosts monthly parent coffees, workshops, visits homes and helps groom parent leaders through PTA and the site-based decision making committee. She has earned the respect of parents like Maritza Barrera, who says Bernardino “goes above and beyond” to equip parents to help their children succeed.
To expand the supportive village for students, colleagues say Bernardino has forged effective partnerships with the Southeast Dallas Hispanic Chamber, Eastfield College, North Texas Food Bank and Real School Gardens, among other community organizations.
Colleague Adrian Gonzalez describes her as a leader who exhibits a tenacious work ethic and constant willingness to collaborate, share knowledge and mentor others.
Harry C. Withers Principal Connie Wallace is justly proud of her school’s outstanding volunteer and partnership program that effectively engages a broad spectrum of individuals and organizations to help students succeed at the north Dallas campus. Wallace describes Withers as “well known for the way we galvanize the community” to benefit our students. The schools boasts a strong PTA and dads club, a Latino advisory committee and a team of 400 registered volunteers whose support brings in thousands of dollars for student support and enrichment.
According to colleague Jennifer Parvin, much of the school’s success at nurturing these thriving partnerships is due to Wallace’s skill at collaboration. Parvin, a former principal who worked closely with Wallace, calls her a leader of “outstanding character who evokes and develops leadership in others,” and “an exemplary developer of people, both as a coach, leader and a creator of professional learning experiences.”
Parent Rebecca Heller credits Wallace for taking Withers from “good to great” by establishing a clear road map for success, gaining buy-in from all stakeholders, setting high goals and committing to execution of those goals, all to the benefit of greatness for all students.
H.I. Holland Principal Julie Singleton has her staff and students laser-focused on college and career readiness. Every hallway of the Oak Cliff campus is decked with college banners, each door displays a college theme, and teachers sport their college attire weekly. At fifth grade, students are introduced to the college application process, and the school hosts a monthly College Café where students explore the majors and features offered by various colleges.
Singleton says Holland’s success is based on promoting positive relationships with staff, practicing respect, increasing trust, and filtering every decision through the lens of what’s best for students. Such practices helped the campus move from low performing in her first year as principal in 2013 to a status of met standards with three distinctions in 2015.
Singleton’s supervisor, feeder pattern Executive Usamah Muhammad-Rogers describes the turnaround at Holland as “remarkable” and calls Singleton “a hard-working visionary who leads with courage and tenacity.” Echoing those sentiments, Assistant Principal Melissa Myles-Quinn says Singleton transformed Richard Lagow Elementary, a school where both previously worked, from low-performing to exemplary with the same incredible work ethic and passion now in evidence at Holland.
Richard Lagow Elementary Principal Tanya Shelton believes that the ability of educators to fully engage students is paramount to student success. This explains why Shelton strives to ensure that teachers inspire in their students qualities like attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion. From professional development to evaluation of student data, she looks for evidence that teachers and learners are making meaningful connections. When that happens, she believes that teachers are not only better able to assess students’ level of understanding, but can also quickly adjust instruction to better reach students.
To expand her staff’s leadership skills, Shelton shares responsibilities with her Campus Instructional Leadership Team, involving them in planning professional development, observing and delivering feedback to new teachers, and serving as mentors—all with the goal of increasing the quality of instruction.
Shelton’s willingness to share her expertise, coupled with her practice of decorating to make the building more welcoming, hand-writing notes of appreciation and holding events to celebrate staff successes, prompted one teacher to declare that “she not only makes Richard Lagow a great place for kids to learn, but she has made it a great place to work.”