Distinguished Principals To Be Honored Today in Washington, D.C.

NAESP and the U.S. Department of Education today named 65 outstanding elementary and middle school principals as the 2006 class of National Distinguished Principals. They will be honored October 27 at an awards banquet at the Capital Hilton hotel in Washington, D.C. Read excerpts from some of the principals on how this award has impacted them, both personally and professionally.

A Principal's Job is Never Done

The role of today’s principals has changed dramatically
just within the last few years. Principals are expected to be mentors, managers,
and in some cases magicians. Yet one thing remains the same—their commitment to
the success of students and teachers. We hope that NAESP’s new blog, the
Principals’ Office, which launches today, will highlight the complex job of
principals and also dispel the notion that the principals’ office is a place to
visit only when there’s a problem to be solved. We also hope that principals
from all over the world will take a moment and engage in conversations with
their colleagues. Welcome to the Principals’ Office—where the door is always

Is it the Equivalent of the Oscars?

If you ask any of these principals they might just say yes. We asked this year’s National Distinguished Principals (NDPs) what life has been like since they received the award and here's what some of them had to say…

  • Jackie Doerr, Arizona: “Ms. Doerr, we are so happy because you won the prize of the year,” “You worked hard and you deserve it,” “We are lucky that you are the principal,” “Ms. Doerr have you met the President yet?,” and “Ms. Doerr, I knew you were the best!”  These were comments from my wonderful students after I got my NDP recognition. The acknowledgement from students, staff, parents and peers has been the most rewarding. As an educator for 39 years, I find that life just keeps getting better and better.
  • Dr. Liz Dunham, Germany: The most enjoyable aspect has been the sense of shared pride which surrounds me in the community. We are a small American military base in Germany, and the parents, teachers, students and community members have joined me in celebrating this award. They are particularly proud because my colleague Dr. Russ Claus from our elementary school is a former NDP and everyone is bragging that we ONLY have NDPs in our schools.
  • Steve Ahle, California: Since being named an NDP, people are happy to hear about the award and are very congratulatory about it. I have been a principal for 25 years in the Carlsbad Unified School Districtand many of the friends and peers I have worked with have offered their congratulations. I relay that the feeling is mutual since I know all of them share in my successes and development along the way. I feel that they should share in this honor and I inform them I look good because they made me look good. The kids at school, parents that greet me, and teachers all are excited and awaiting the trip to D.C. and ask me if I have gone already, or if I will meet the President. There is a sense of pride that they exude and I feel it as well just representing them.
  • Ellen Demray, Michigan: My life as a principal has been so enhanced since I was named the Michigan Principal of the Year and then an NDP! From my very first day back in my district, when my students and staff all lined the hallways and played “Hail to the Chief” while I walked through my building, I have felt so honored and proud of being an educator! I have always felt enormous pride in doing the very best I can for the children placed in my care, whether it was in a classroom or in a whole school, and to have that daily effort recognized has been amazing! The parents at my school are very supportive and the staff is very proud too! But to the kids, I am just Mrs. Demray, who is there every day for them, just as I always was—and that’s the way it’s supposed to be! 
  • Ramona Robinson, Alabama: My faculty, students, and staff have had such a great time in celebrating what I feel is an accomplishment for my school and community! My faculty gave me gifts of appreciation, our school board recognized me at a board meeting, and my parents treated me to a day at a spa and an overnight stay at the Marriott. One of my student’s concern has been that I did not get a “trophy!” We had a great laugh with that one!!
  • Myron K. Brumaghim, Hawaii: The NPD award for my school and community can best be described as awesome. My students, staff, and community have really viewed this award as a reflection of things to come. It is just unbelievable what it has done for them. 
  • Diane Moeller, Minnesota: Since being named an NDP, my life has been a whirlwind. (Of course, that was true before the award and is true for any school principal.) This award has served as a strong source of pride for our school community. The staff, students, and parents are all walking a bit taller with the added recognition. The community even showed its support recently by passing a bond referendum to allow us to build a new school. I would like to think this would have passed anyway, but I believe the positive publicity served us well to help get the word out. For me personally, I am often reflecting on the role of principal as I determine messages to be given to various groups. The more I reflect, the more inspired I am with the great job this is!
  • Susan E. Bridges, Virginia: Life is very busy! I have become quite a local celebrity, being featured in three newspapers and on our local television channel. I have been asked to serve on several state-level committees, some of which have involved a visit to our state House of Delegates, and the Lt. Governor paid me a visit at my school this summer when he was in town! I am still receiving congratulatory cards and remarks from colleagues and parents. I truly feel honored by this outpouring of support and celebration.
  • Geraldine Branch, Lebanon: I am honored and grateful to have received this award, but it is a quiet matter for me. Only my closest friends, family, and colleagues know, for I work at the American Community School in Beirut, Lebanon. The tragic events of the summer have consumed our full attention. As we regain our sense of self and safety, I will celebrate with the school and community as they are the ones who earned the award.
  • Charlotte R. Rafferty, Florida: My students recognized me and each child in the school gave me a rose (over 450 roses) and WOW what excitement in the building with the news media there and the television cameras rolling. My Rotary Club also recognized me with a dozen beautiful roses and a standing ovation at the meeting. I have felt so honored and so privileged to be recognized as the Florida NDP.
  • Phil Davis, Indiana: I was named Elementary Principal of the Year for Indiana at our Fall Principals’ Conference last November. When I returned to my school the next day I was surprised with a “parade” –and I was the parade! Almost 600 students and staff lined the halls as I “danced” along the parade route. My staff put a king’s crown on me for the parade. My 2nd graders all blew bubbles and our 3rd graders threw confetti. I received two binders full of notes from every child, plus numerous congratulations and cards from the staff and community. I am always quick to say that the NDP honor is for our whole school community (knowing that I wouldn’t have received it without all the support of staff, students, and parents). I have been treated like “royalty” by the Indianapolis Star and local newspapers. It has been very overwhelming and humbling, yet, awesome, for the past 10 months!
  • Sharon M. Redfern, Montana: Since being named an NDP, I have received many good wishes from friends and colleagues throughout the state. I was greeted with a lovely breakfast, cards, flowers, and congratulations from my staff.  They, and the students, had also prepared a surprise assembly in which the word “Principal” was spelled out with descriptive phrases for each letter. I was also presented with a huge book containing photos and autographs of all my students and staff. I have been featured in the local newspaper and television stations since receiving this award. It has been an honor and a privilege and an incredible experience!
  • Scott Stults, Wyoming: Certainly this is one, if not the most, humbling award that I have ever received. It was gratifying to know that the reason I was a recipient of this award was due to being surrounded by a great staff, supportive parents, and hardworking students. It all began in January as we sat in the banquet hall awaiting the announcement of this year’s NDP. Once the DVD began, my throat became dry and my eyes began to swell with tears of excitement and disbelief knowing that I would be joining the elite group of principals that I held in great honor and esteem. My excitement became more realized as I watched clips from the junior high students, teachers, and parents with the climax of my family entering and sharing in this surreal experience. Upon my return to my school, I was celebrated with “high fives” (handprint cut-outs with five reasons for the honor) throughout the school, banners, students and staff dressed in cowboy boots and ties (my normal attire), and an after school celebration. I later received congratulatory letters from our U.S.legislators and Superintendent of Public Instruction. Our local newspaper featured a front page “spread” celebrating my honor. I now anxiously await the red carpet treatment that goes with the official ceremony in Washington, D.C. The “celebrity” status has been nice, but I will also be glad to return back to earth where I can be the same guy I was before this tremendous honor was bestowed. As I have shared, in my heart I truly know this is not an award won by me, but by those students, staff, administrators, and parents that I am blessed to work with on a daily basis. Has my life changed? Yes, and I have enjoyed every minute!
  • Deborah Emery, MaineNDP: I live in a small rural town in central Maine, population 1,000, yes that’s right, 1,000. When notification of my award reached the paper, the townsfolk immediately wanted to plan a celebration. We had a reception at the home of one of the elderly women in our town. A large number of residents came to wish me well. I received an outpouring of well wishes, cards, drawings, and gifts from community members. The teachers worked together to my surprise and made me a beautiful queen sized quilt for my home—a beautiful blend of blues and whites and terra cotta—which they presented at a town reception in May. Many of my artifacts from the spring awards are on display in our viewing cabinet in the school lobby. I am so grateful to have been selected for this award; but even more so then before, I feel the commitment to the welfare of children strongly in my heart.
  • David Root, Ohio: I was extremely honored to represent hundreds of Ohio middle school principals by virtue of this award. There are many outstanding principals that see to the daily needs of the puberty stricken. Our community has been very supportive, especially since my Assistant Principal, Ms. Gweynn Hampel, was similarly recognized by the OASSP last year as an assistant principal.
  • Pete Swanson, Alaska: Life has not really changed much since I was named NDP.  There was an article in the local paper about me receiving the award and many people in our local community have been very kind to congratulate me on receiving the award.  My family certainly has continued to provide a good dose of humility for me even though they are very proud of me and the fact that I received such an award.  My hope is that the award will make more of a difference in the lives of the children, staff, and community that I serve as I am challenged to live up to their even higher expectations.
  • Judi Taylor, Idaho: I have such a great intrinsic feeling that others know what I have accomplished or try to accomplish and see that it has worth and value.  It is very rewarding!

  • Nancy Gagliardi, Massachusetts: It has been quite an honor to be named NDP!  Last spring, I was honored at my state principals’ meeting by colleagues, friends and family.  Since then I have received recognition at my school and in my community. It has really created a sense of pride and recognition for my entire school community—I am truly thankful for all their hard work and all they have done!
  • Virginia F. Hicks, Oregon: The positive response has been warm and touching.  I have felt truly humbled and honored by all the recognition and sometimes I still can’t believe that I received this prestigious award because there are so many hard working, dedicated administrators in Oregon. I was recognized by the Jacksonville-Applegate Rotary and I was asked to speak and share my thoughts on education. The Confederation of Oregon School Administrators (COSA) hired a video production company to film our school and it’s NDP! The video was shown at the annual COSA conference in Seaside, Oregon this past June. The video has also been shown at Rotary meetings, schools, and to family and friends. My mother shows her copy to anyone willing to watch it! She even had the hired lawn boys watch it one day when they were mowing her lawn. The local papers, the Jacksonville Review and Medford Mail Tribune have both run articles regarding the award. The Tribune editors printed a very complimentary editorial entitled, “She’s a Believer!,” which focused on my belief that all children can learn and succeed. One of the local TV stations, KTVL, made a short segment for a weekly education highlight called, “Learning Matters.” Two local restaurants picked up my dinner bill as a way to say thank you. I have received many cards, letters, e-mails, and phone calls from all around the state. I have been particularly moved by the number of teachers in my district who have congratulated me and many of them have never worked directly with me. I frequently hear, “It’s about time you were recognized for all you have done for this district.” My staff had a lot of fun with me and hosted a “Na-cho Average Principal” Fiesta featuring nachos and other delicious food. They decorated my office and the staff room in my honor. The most heartwarming moment was when a troubled student that I have worked with for several years gave me a hug and thanked me for being his principal. He said he saw me on the news and wanted me to know that I was a big influence in his life. He said, “You cared about me and you didn’t give up so after a while I decided that I better start caring about myself.” (This student is a 6th grader who has been in foster care for the past three years because his mom is in jail. I shared with him that I lived in foster care growing up also.)
  • Bob Ziegler, Florida: Since I was named an NDP, I have experienced a renewed sense of accomplishment and joy as I work with my constituents. The process has caused me to reflect on my experiences and on my philosophical viewpoints. That reflective exercise was very rewarding and enhanced my desire to continue being a school principal. Young and old and middle-aged alike have been saying nice things and congratulating me. I find people are excited to be associated with and led by a NDP.  The new title seems to be a validation from an outside source of my leadership and this carries with it a great deal of weight. I have been given the opportunity to lift up my previous and current staff members as the real award winners. Without them I would not have been able to do and experience so many wonderful things in the education setting. We have celebrated together.

  • Billie Jo Drake, Kansas: Obviously, the staff and students used this as a wonderful excuse to organize a school-wide celebration where I was honored by every class, the superintendent, and my family members. Of course, several teachers took the opportunity to “roast” me and wrote a poem in my honor which was later included in the 2005-06 yearbook. The local newspaper and television stations did wonderful interviews and articles and I have been asked to give various presentations throughout the community. It has been an honor that I will treasure for a very long time.
  • Loretta Rubin, Connecticut: My life has been very hectic and exciting since I was named an NDP. I was recognized by the Middletown Board of Education at a school assembly. The Mayor of Middletown came to the school and declared a day in my honor.  The Connecticut Association of Schools—an NAESP affiliate—has scheduled a gala dinner in my honor (as well as the secondary principals of the year).