This week, the U.S. Department of Education announced the recipients of the Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership for 2022.
Nine K-12 principals were recognized for their ability to lead their schools and overcome adversity at a time when education faced some of its toughest challenges.
“As a former principal, I understand the vital role school leaders play in shaping school culture and welcoming learning environments, improving student outcomes, and empowering teachers to meet the needs of their students,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
“The nine school leaders receiving this year’s Terrel Bell awards have raised the bar for building positive school climates, increasing achievement, and finding creative ways to nurture, engage, and support students, families, educators, and needs to accelerate their academic recovery from the pandemic.”
As part of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program, the award was named after the second U.S. secretary of education and is intended to honor those who are committed to education.
Here are this year’s recipients:
Bridgett Stewart, principal of Piedmont Elementary School in Piedmont, Alabama, has led the school for five years, centering the school’s focus on its students. Piedmont was recently named a “High Flyer” for its outstanding student test scores in Math and ELA by the Alabama Education Lab. According to the community, the school’s success is largely attributed to the role Stewart plays in supporting each child in their educational journey.
Miguel Marco is the principal at Wittmann Elementary School in Cerritos, California. Taking a leadership role wasn’t on his radar until he was given the opportunity to teach. Marco coached high school sports during a gap year between undergraduate and graduate studies, during which time he was asked to become a substitute teacher during the day. It was that experience that changed his future forever. Marco changed his major, earned a graduate degree in education, and later, another graduate degree in Educational Leadership and Administration. He has been the principal of Wittmann Elementary since 2014.
Saint Thomas Aquinas High School Principal Denise Aloma in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has been in education for more than 50 years. She approaches her job from many perspectives, as she’s taught in the U.S., Canada and Jamaica. Aloma is grounded in the traditions of Catholic education and ensures that each student is supported. She started the Saint Thomas’ Summer School Program, which allows students to get ahead in their learning. The school was also one of the first Catholic high schools to adopt a STEM focus. Aloma has served as principal for seven years.
Linda Bevil is the principal at James B. Eads Elementary School in Munster, Indiana. According to Bevil, her job is her calling, not her career. Throughout her 11 years with the school, she has been committed to working with her school’s leadership team, data team and intervention team. The school’s teachers are encouraged to assess instructional strategies, implement reading programs that best meet students’ needs and use data to better understand interventions and tools.
Julie Scott, principal of R.L. Wright Elementary School in Sedgwick, Kansas, believes her students are her fuel. She serves to give students a safe place to learn and feel a sense of belonging. Scott believes in the power of relationships and team building. For example, she created a Principal Advisory Team for fourth through sixth graders to meet weekly and receive feedback from students so the school feels student-friendly. Scott has served as principal for four years.
Catherine Bricelj is the principal at Myrtle Place Elementary School in Lafayette, Louisiana. She served as an educator for 13 years before taking a leadership role in New Orleans. Since taking the position at Myrtle Place in 2017, she has brought the school from a “C-” rating to an “A.” According to Bricelj, listening and observation are essential for creating a healthy school culture centered on relationship-building and supporting students.
In Rochester, Minnesota, James Sonju serves as principal at Lincoln K-8 School. He has always aspired to be an educator, confident that he would be able to make a difference in students’ lives. Although he first served as a teacher, he knew he would be able to make more impactful decisions in a leadership role. Throughout his 15 years at the school, he set the school’s focus on STEM to bring opportunities to his students. Most of all, Sonju believes in the importance of a positive and collaborative school culture that focuses on empowering students.
Ryan Ambrose serves as the principal at Checotah Intermediate Elementary School in Checotah, Oklahoma. He understands the importance of ensuring that every student is meeting their academic potential. Ambrose believes that students can achieve a year’s worth of growth or more academically each school year. Soon after taking the position, he created a database where teachers can keep track of individual student data to better understand academic patterns and trends. The school’s teachers use the data as a resource for their instruction.
Mahri Aste is the principal at Mosaic Elementary in Fairfax, Virginia, one of the most diverse schools in the nation. To ensure the school’s staff accurately reflects its student population, Aste has hired a diverse staff with regard to gender, race, age, etc. She understands the importance of representation since students look to their school’s staff as role models and mentors. Additionally, she focuses on intentionality and communication across cultures and implementing strategies that meet the needs of her students.