Ask any principal the key to success in their school and the first response you’re likely to hear will be along the lines of “my staff.” Schools rise to the top on the efforts not just of a highly-effective principal, but on the combined contributions and support of a team of educators and other staff members.
Particularly crucial are assistant principals, whose roles and responsibilities have expanded in recent years alongside those of principals themselves. For example, as school leaders have seen expectations grow around their instructional roles, assistant principals have risen to the occasion and taken ownership of other non-instructional duties.
Our inaugural look at Rising Principals runs the gamut from those who took a hands-on role in driving student success by establishing mentorship opportunities and systems of support, to expanding counseling services and parent knowledge.
Dustin Barnes & Tiffany Young
Assistant principals at Jefferson Houston PK-8 International Baccalaureate School in Alexandria, Virginia
Barnes and Young work hand-in-hand to guide students from preschool to middle school and their teamwork has led to improvements in student behavior and better communications between parents and school leadership.
The assistant principals have divided the grades into odds and evens and “graduate” with each grade, allowing them to really get to know the students they're tasked with mentoring. It also allows them an opportunity to spend at least one full school year working one-on-one with each grade level's faculty. The students are excited to see the assistant principals pop in to classes, engage in lessons, chat in the hallways when travelling between classes or recess, or last year popping into Zoom classes.
Their presence and participation both during and beyond the school day has helped build trust and connections between the administration and students and families. Their calm and positive approaches were essential in keeping the school community together while students learned remotely for most of last school year.
Additionally, in 2019, Barnes started a mentoring program focusing on academics, empowerment and building relationships. He continued to meet with his groups during the pandemic to provide social-emotional and academic support. In addition, Barnes piloted an afterschool and Saturday Academy to provide additional academic support in reading, math, and science.Back to top
Assistant principal at Lander Elementary School in Mayfield Heights, Ohio
At 26 years old, Brown is determined to disturb the school to prison pipeline narrative by focusing on positive role modeling, establishing the highest levels of expectations for students and staff, and ensuring quality instruction and student engagement. He’s doing this by personally getting involved in different aspects of school leadership, participation and training.
In his day-to-day role as assistant principal, he supports the principal with school management and coordinates all efforts for organizing student clubs, the discipline of students and student testing. He has had professional development in positive behavior and intervention supports, restorative justice practices and trauma-informed practices.
Brown has helped connect elementary students with high school mentors and has encouraged paraprofessional educators to develop their expertise and knowledge. In 2017, he co-founded Unleashing Black Minds, a nonprofit mentoring program for young African American middle and elementary school boys.
The organization hosts speakers who share their personal stories, facilitates pen pal relationships between the boys and college students, and shows the boys how to tie neckties and dress professionally. The boys also learn about commitments to academics, financial literacy, interpersonal skills and civic engagement. Some students who are involved even have the opportunity to participate in job shadow days where they go to work with a professional and receive mentoring and job-related skills.
Brown also serves as a member of the Maple Heights Board of Education, a neighboring school district, where he collaborates with other board members to oversee a $34 million annual budget and to propose, adopt and implement various pieces of policy that gives the district guidance on priorities and goals with input from the larger community.Back to top
Associate principal at Jenks High School in Jenks, Oklahoma
Leading learning is at the heart of Eric’s work for Jenks High School. He champions and celebrates new learning weekly by sending staff a podcast of the week to reflect upon, as well as a “data drop” or snapshot of student life or school performance. He also shared weekly video conversations with students, which allowed staff to hear authentic feedback from student voices, and asked the students to name one thing they want teachers to know about them.
“It’s important our staff never forget that data points are really students who we serve,” Fox said. “I want staff to truly know their fears, their hopes, their challenges and their aspirations. Those firsthand accounts help us persevere in the critical work of supporting students as they create their futures while in our classrooms today.”
Last year, Fox was named the Assistant Principal of the Year for Oklahoma by the Oklahoma Association of Secondary School Principals and both last year and this year, he was asked to serve as a lead team member for Oklahoma State University and the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration’s TeleLead program. The group of administrators share consulting practices over a case study and professional development is presented over relevant topics submitted by administrators around the state twice a month during the school year.
Prior to going into administration, Eric was a social studies-history teacher, an exam reader for Advanced Placement U.S. History, and a state finalist for Oklahoma Teacher of the Year.Back to top
Assistant principal and director of data and school culture at Mattahunt Elementary School in Mattapan, Massachusetts
About 40% of Mattahunt Elementary School’s broader community is Haitian, making it one of the largest Haitian communities in the United States. Reflecting this, the school launched a Haitian-Creole dual language program for pre-K in 2018, the first of its kind in the nation, according to Boston Public Schools. The program is directed by Assistant Principal Joelle Gamere and housed in the school’s Toussaint L'Ouverture Academy. Prior to the pandemic and as part of the program, Gamere and her students traveled to Haiti.
Although much of traveling and in-person instruction was put on pause during the first year of the pandemic, Gamere and the rest of school’s staff pushed on with their efforts to reflect this part of the school’s identity. They launched a YouTube channel, created for virtual lessons and read-alongs, included content for the Haitian-Creole dual language program — and it engaged parents, too.
Including content in the language is “also validating for the families, for immigrant families too, that you don’t just have to be reading to your children in English,” Gamere told Boston.com. “You can enjoy reading and having a book read to them in various languages.”
“The parents are listening in on the stories too because growing up for many of them, there weren’t many books in Haitian Creole,” she continued. “Most of the instruction that they received was in French so it’s entertaining for them to see something that they can share with their children in Haitian Creole.”Back to top
Assistant principal at Evergreen High School in Burien, Washington
When asked to describe Simon Iniguez’s accomplishments, a colleague cited him as a “critical architect” of Evergreen High School’s multi-tiered system of supports, a framework gaining popularity that is used to identify and target struggling students needing support.
“The byproduct of this type of system has enabled him as well as other administrators to focus their time on classroom instruction,” Iniguez’s colleague said. “This is reflected in Evergreen's continued rise in graduation rates and putting instruction first.”
Once a school counselor, Simon Iniguez has visited multiple schools in Washington state in the past two years to help others also adopt and administer the system.
In addition, Iniguez has been able to bring what he describes as a “system wide operating rhythm” to Evergreen High School, where the instructional leadership team, professional learning community, anti-racist leadership team, MTSS teams and school culture leadership team “work together in service to the whole school scope and sequence.”
Iniguez describes himself as a first generation son of immigrant parents with Tarascan ancestry, who instilled in Iniguez “the idea that taking care of your community means active engagement in civics, school, church and family.”Back to top
Assistant principal at Lakeside Junior High School in Springdale, Arkansas
When the National Association of Secondary School Principals recognized Chelsea Jennings as its 2021 National Assistant Principal of the Year, CEO Ron Nozoe cited Jennings’ role in developing a positive school culture and her “drive and efforts to prioritize the social-emotional well-being of her students through innovative solutions and continued advocacy.”
Specifically, Jennings worked to expand services for Lakeside Junior High School in Arkansas, a state that ranks number one in its rate for adverse childhood experiences at 60%. Through a partnership with Ozark Guidance, she was able to expand school-based counseling services to include an additional therapist and behavioral paraprofessional, which doubled the number of students able to receive mental health services in a year unlike any other.
Jennings also worked to address poverty in her Title I school, where 531 students out of 710 are eligible for free lunch, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Not only did Jennings advocate to expand the district’s social worker program, but she went the extra mile for her community, including donating a washer and dryer and providing holiday presents for struggling families.
Against this backdrop of trauma and poverty, Jennings also spearheaded a team of teachers and specialists to work with at-risk students and create individualized academic and behavioral goals. Jennings’ work was evident in the numbers by the second year of the program, with twice as many students involved in school-based counseling and half the discipline referrals.Back to top
Assistant principal at Rocky Ridge Elementary School in Birmingham, Alabama
When sharing best practices with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, Aqila Malpass of Rocky Ridge Elementary School wrote, “Unknown unknowns in education contribute to a parent knowledge gap. This gap is the full body of social knowledge and resources that some parents are unaware of due to their lack of understanding and disconnect from the school community.”
It is Malpass’ goal to close the parent knowledge gap, which she says “must occur alongside efforts to close the achievement gap, if the achievement gap is to truly be closed.”
In an effort to do this, and while other schools across the nation were struggling with FAPE during COVID-19 school closures, Malpass held recorded Google meetings to share information and strategies with parents, who she said left the sessions feeling more empowered and knowledgeable.
“I role play and provide models of what support looks and sounds like at home and what learning looks and sounds like in the classroom,” Malpass wrote.
Malpass is also the author of “Mindset Marinades for Students,” a book she published after noticing an increase in sadness among students exacerbated by the pandemic. The book is meant to empower students with daily affirmations and advice.Back to top
Amy Jo Miller
Associate principal at Chapel Hill Academy in Fort Worth, Texas
On top of serving as associate principal at Chapel Hill Academy — a tuition-free, public PK-8 charter school operated by child and family services nonprofit Lena Pope — Amy Jo Miller has also filled the roles of district testing coordinator and ESL coordinator/LPAC chair.
She is cited by peers as a steady source of academic support and a wise and patient role model to the school’s teachers, with a strong focus on engaging students and educators alike in learning, and creating a welcoming and safe learning environment.
Miller also approaches her role as associate principal from an instructional leadership perspective, taking time to work 1:1 with students who are struggling academically or behaviorally. She also frequently serves as a mentor to teachers interested in pursuing administration.
As school climate and culture — for students and staff alike — continues to grow in importance as a metric for school quality and success, Miller embodies the qualities crucial to support those efforts.Back to top
Assistant principal at Rolling Hills Middle School in Watsonville, California
Munoz was born and raised in Mexico before moving to the U.S. and that experience has helped her relate to the challenges English language students face. It also inspires her work to support all middle schoolers’ needs through a student-centered approach.
Her background as an education specialist designing curriculum and creating individualized education programs for students with disabilities has contributed to the school’s strong working relationship with the Special Education Local Plan Area and the streamlining of procedures at the school.
During distance learning last school year, the school began holding wellness team meetings to address academic and social issues that were preventing students from engaging in class. This led to more collaboration with parents and other community partnerships.The school has also developed partnerships to provide culturally appropriate activities for students.
As an administrator, she provides clear and concise feedback to the staff and in turn, seeks feedback and clarifications.
She also is not afraid to roll-up her sleeves and do the manual work to make Rolling Hills Middle School a more aesthetically and culturally welcoming place. She renovated the teacher lounge area to create a wellness center and spent several weekends helping with demolition and carpet installation.
She is currently creating a student wellness center, which will house the school’s social-emotional counselor. Munoz also helped organize the addition of gardens around the quad area and new furniture for the library and student community center.Back to top
Associate principal at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Washington, D.C.
Patricia Odom has spent over a decade in education, primarily serving her own community in Washington, D.C., currently serves as an associate principal at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, the city’s only all-male public school serving Black boys.
One of the school’s goals is to uplift the students it serves and raise graduation rates, a mission Odom contributes to by focusing her efforts on interventions and monitoring for 9th-graders to ensure promotion to the next grade.
Research shows those who are promoted to 10th grade within one year of high school have a 88% likelihood of graduating within four years, while those who do not get promoted after 9th grade have a 22% chance of graduating at any time.
Odom’s intervention work and the close eye she pays to early warning indicators has led to a promotion rate of over 80%, reaching as high as 90% within the school’s first few years of operation. Her work is part of a larger, district-wide effort to increase 9th grade promotion rates, which reached a low of 54% in comprehensive high schools in 2013-14.
Odom also works with teachers as an instructional leader, helping the school’s staff to better serve students as they transition from middle to high school.Back to top