What is the Star School Leader Award?
In lieu of National Principals Month, this award was created to honor principals who are the greatest school leaders — and who better to ask than those on the frontlines; teachers?
The nomination period lasted a little over two months, from Oct 14 until Dec 19. During this time, we received hundreds of stories from teachers across the country who were inspired by their principals.
To all those who submitted, we sincerely thank you for your contribution to this award. Your responses were a delight to read — you made us laugh, smile and even cry a bit, at times. But more importantly, your voices instilled in us a vast hope for the future of education, and a sense of how great leadership can pave the path to success for schools, teachers, and students.
You sent so many stories of exemplary school leadership that we were compelled to expand the contest to include multiple winners. In other words, we began with the goal to find a star, but we ended up with a constellation 😉 — of twelve recipients.
So, What Makes a Star School Leader?
Great school leaders empower their teachers. What teachers do is one of the most difficult, and often thankless jobs. And while we all agree that teachers are the true heroes of every school system, it takes a special kind of leader to enable their teachers with the right support to focus on the important things. Like teaching.
The Star School Leader rubric stands on three pillars, hanging from one common theme:
- Empowering others by setting a positive attitude, culture, and environment.
- Empowering others with the right use of technology as a means and not an end.
- Empowering others through supportive coaching and access to professional development.
What do they win? Recipients will receive a physical Star School Leader award, an Amazon giftcard, free professional development guides, and an upcoming spotlight feature on the Teacher Voice blog — so be sure to check in to view the spotlights in the upcoming months!
And now, without further ado… we present to you:
The Star School Leaders
The Inspirational Leader, Star School Leader Recipient
Shameka Gerald is the principal at Heritage High School, Virginia. Nominated by Tiffanie Smith.
“Mrs. Gerald is an amazing leader that inspires both students and staff. She is very caring and seeks to meet the needs of everyone. Mrs. Gerald’s leadership has allowed faculty and staff to go above and beyond in many areas. This includes teachers being leaders in and out of the classroom. Over the past four years as our leader, she has instilled many leadership qualities in teachers to be an effective teacher leader. This has allowed many to step out of the normal box and try new things in the classroom. Her leadership is very unique in that a few teachers have moved on to higher positions.”
The Life-Long Mentor, Star School Leader Recipient
Priscilla Salinas is the principal at Henry Ford Elementary, Texas. Nominated by Narda Lugo.
“Mrs. Salinas inspired me to continue to move forward in my education by always encouraging me to attain my masters. I worked with her for seven years as a teacher before entering back to school to attain my Masters in Library Science. I will forever be grateful towards Mrs. Salinas for giving my first teaching position then for hiring me again as a librarian. I love my job and I could not have done it if Mrs. Salinas had not encouraged me to continue my education. She is a role model to many and continues to encourage everyone to continue to educate ourselves in a daily basis, even if that means losing one of her educators. She says, “She might lose a teacher, but gain a role model to others.” She is always looking for ways to encourage us to continue to grow which makes us continue to want to.”
The Thoughtful Leader, Star School Leader Recipient
Keith Nemlich is the principal at Central Elementary School, Vermont. Nominated by Judy Verespy.
“Mr. Keith Nemlich is a principal who truly prioritizes children’s needs. He is a caring, compassionate, thoughtful, inspiring leader who models patience, persistence and playfulness… He encourages mindfulness breaks in the classroom. He encourages teachers to share our expertise with one another at staff meetings, and to briefly observe colleagues at work when we can. Keith researches new, more effective ways to accomplish something he believes in, and patiently, persistently works to get administrative support from the district. I could go on and on about the joy of working for a principal who is intelligent, thoughtful, supportive and inspiring. With tighter school budgets, more stringent standards, plentiful new initiatives cutting into already rigorous school day schedules, teaching has become more stressful. Keith Nemlich makes the teachers, para professionals and students at our school want to go to work each day, and be the best we can!”
The Culture Builder, Star School Leader Recipient
Carol Leveillee is the principal at Frederick Douglass Elementary, Delaware. Nominated by Jacqueline Allman.
“In the four years that she has been our principal she has turned our failing title 1 school around and now we are thriving! She has brought so many ideas to our school through book studies and motivational speakers. Most recently she took a few staff members to a “Get Your Teach On” conference where staff brought back numbers ideas and now she is allowing us to share and implement new engagement strategies school wide. She also has inspired us to build those meaningful relationships with each other and our students and I believe that has helped us turn our school around.”
The Life-Long Learner, Star School Leader Recipient
Corey Crochet is the principal at Labadieville Middle School, Louisiana. Nominated by Cathy Martinez.
“Mr. Crochet has a difficult job; how do you inspire students of poverty to value learning? The answer; go back to school to get your PHD in Education. Mr. Crochet is constantly learning and because of this, he inspires his teachers to do the same. Teachers meet twice a week during the school day, and often meet after school on their own time to study and learn how to make LMS reflect the efforts of the students, teachers and administration. LMS can be a challenging place to work. However, Mr. Crochet’s attitude of removing all obstacles that get in the way of learning is evident across the campus. He tackles problems and is not afraid to go back to the drawing board when something is not working. His motto is “”Every Student. Every Day, Whatever it takes””. AND he will do whatever it takes through the lens of education and learning.”
The Teacher's Advocate, Star School Leader Recipient
Tammy Taylor is the principal at Wellton Elementary School District, Arizona. Nominated by Lisa Jameson.
“Before she became principal, Mrs. Taylor worked with Donors Choose to get sewing machines for our school. Now as our Principal, she helps teachers apply for donations through Donors Choose. This is just one of the ways that Mrs. Taylor has inspired teachers and staff members at Wellton Elementary. With her positive attitude and incredible energy, she has been an excellent role model for our teachers and staff.”
The Analytical Leader, Star School Leader Recipient
Tamara Jones-Jackson is the principal at Ralph J. Bunche Academy in Ecorse, Michigan. Nominated by Sandra Fuoco.
“In 3 short months, she has created a functioning PTO where we never had one before, allowed teachers to take leadership roles for the betterment of the school, changed policies and procedures so that every day processes run smoother, provided guidance and instruction on how to use our data more effectively so that we can better serve our students, and created positive relationships with students, staff and parents. But what astonishes me the most is she somehow, someway gets things done! In a struggling district without extra income, we now have a communication system in the building, ceiling tiles and bleachers are fixed (which haven’t been in years), teachers are getting much needed resources, etc. AND she does this all with a smile and positive attitude. In my 2 decades of teaching, she is truly the most inspirational, motivational, and believable leader I have ever had the pleasure of working with.”
The Teacher Enabler, Star School Leader Recipient
Rodney Ivey is the principal at Swimming Pen Creek Elementary, Florida. Nominated by Janet Shaw.
“Mr. Ivey’s positive leadership and vision for doing what is in the best interests of our children sets the tone for all of our faculty and staff to be positive, enthusiastic, and productive . He sees the best in people, therefore young and old rise to his expectations. Rather than micromanage, he works collaboratively with his staff to plan programs and events. He collects data for us, looking for trends and meeting with us on teams to focus on ways to help individual students. Mr. Ivey finds ways to boost students and staff, from a shout out bulletin board to eating lunch with children. He squeezes every penny out of a tight budget to gets his teachers what they need, even planning and manning fundraisers to accomplish his goals. While most of us stay late planning and preparing, many times, his car is the last in the parking lot. He does what needs to be done, even vacuuming my classroom when the custodians were busy on another project. His kind, accepting demeanor inspires students and teachers alike to be kind and considerate. His frequent walks through our classrooms are welcomed, as he joins in our lessons alongside students; we love it when he photographs engaging lessons and shares them out with the staff. Under his leadership, our campus is a very happy inclusive place, with a supportive family-like atmosphere that encompasses parents, kids, teachers, and staff.”
Traci O. Filiss
The Technology Pioneer, Star School Leader Recipient
Traci Filiss is the principal at Taos Academy, New Mexico. Nominated by Elizabeth LeBlanc.
“Ms. Filiss is an inspirational leader because she shares decision-making responsibilities with her staff. Her expectations and her trust in their expertise is tremendous. For example, Taos Academy’s Leadership Team is made up of teacher leaders, many of whom also take on administrative roles. She works hard to empower all stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, and families) to be leaders in our school setting.”
The Passionate Leader, Star School Leader Recipient
Faith Shroud is the principal at Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy, Kentucky. Nominated by Sandra Stinson.
“Mrs. Stroud is a very strong leader and true advocate for our scholars and our staff. She doesn’t ask anything of us that she is not willing to do herself. She goes into work on the weekends, yes that includes Sundays and works for the improvement of our school to benefit our scholars. She has worked to put a Chromebook in every scholar’s hands at our school. Which for our district is not the case every where else. She works and budgets to set up field trips for our scholars that have real world ties to their curriculum and provides them with experiences that they may not be able to have otherwise. She is a fully transparent leader. She does not hide things from the staff and expects the same from us. She works diligently to provide our scholars with the best educators in their field and strives to improve us as teachers with embedded PD and opportunities to attend seminars and workshops whenever possible. She is a true inspiration to me as a teacher and I think that our scholars feel the same way.”
The Collaborative Leader, Star School Leader Recipient
Pam Gildersleeve-Hernandez is the Superintendent/Principal at San Antonio Union School District, California. Nominated by Diane Stensrud.
“Mrs. Hernandez continually seeks to better herself by reading, participating in professional groups for book discussions, attending conferences, taking classes to remain current, and classes to push the boundaries of education. She focuses on 21 Century Future Ready Skills, and encourages the staff to do the same. I love it when she hears us talking about an opportunity for professional development, and says, “Go for it! Let’s make this happen!” She attends as many conferences as possible with us, and makes every effort to provide team-building opportunities. She also makes every effort to equip us to reach our professional goals. Despite the challenges of working in a small district, and wearing many hats, Mrs. Hernandez continues to grow as a learner, as well as a leader. She is an inspiration to me!”
The Motivational Coach, Star School Leader Recipient
Sarah Hays is the principal at Emily Dickinson Elementary School, Montana. Nominated by Tina Martin.
“Each school year Sarah finds a way to motivate us as a staff. This year with the start of a new year with a lot of new staff members and an extra 75 students, we had a lot of movement (rooms, and locations of support staff). This did not stop Sarah from being positive and sharing her passion and goals for us as a staff. At the kick off meeting, Sarah talked about how we all came together and continue to do what is best for the children. She encouraged us and looked at the positives that are happening and not that we are a school bursting at the seams and there is no extra spaces. She shared copies of “The Energy Bus” and had us work break into groups to read each section of the book and come back to summarize what we read to the rest of the staff. Sarah modeled how we too as classroom teachers can share this strategy with our own students.”