Best School Principals in All 50 States
It takes a lot of work to become a school principal ... and that's just a drop in the bucket compared to what it takes to make it work once you get there.
People who have dedicated their lives to being educators represent the very best of us. Their investment in our children's future often goes unrewarded, and they routinely take on epic tasks without so much as a pat on the back. For a school principal, their role means being put in charge of our most precious resources in our children as well as the faculty and staff who show up every day to help them achieve their goals. It's nothing short of putting the future of our country in their hands.
Here's a look at the best school principals in all 50 states (except for New Hampshire, which didn't report this data for 2022).
Alabama: Larry Haynes
School: Oak Mountain Middle School (Birmingham, Alabama)
Bottom line: Oak Mountain Middle School has thrived under the leadership of Dr. Larry Haynes over the past two decades. Hired as Oak Mountain Middle's principal in 2004 after serving as a teacher and then assistant principal at Oak Mountain High, Haynes has guided Oak Mountain Middle to placing students in the Top 10 middle schools in the country in math and science.
Oak Mountain also became the first middle school to be recognized for "Exceeding the Challenge" across all demographics by the Alabama Department of Education.
Note: All principals were selected based on the 2022 National Association of Secondary School Principals awards and FamilyMinded research unless otherwise noted.
Alaska: Mary Fulp
School: Colony Middle School (Palmer, Alaska)
Bottom line: Mary Fulp has been an educator for 25 years, including 15 years as the principal at Colony Middle School before recently taking over as the principal at Colony High School.
Fulp is a former president of both the Alaska Council of School Administrators and the Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals, and she has also held a role as a mentor for other principals within the Alaska School Leadership Academy. Within Colony Middle, Fulp's "Student of the Week" program recognizes individual student accomplishments and her "Knights of the Round Table" meetings with student representatives are both examples of the way she stays connected with her students. Fulp is a win not just for Palmer but for all of Alaska when it comes to creating bright futures for its students.
Arizona: Stephanie Silman
School: Sahuarita Middle School (Sahuarita, Arizona)
Bottom line: Stephanie Silman has been the principal at Sahuarita Middle since 2009 and has been in education for over two decades — first as a high school Spanish teacher and then as an assistant principal at Sahuarita High School before stepping into her current role. Silman's innovations at Sahuarita Middle bring students to the forefront in environmental education at a young age, as she established two gardens on campus that students cultivate and maintain throughout the year.
Silman was a recipient of the Tucson Business Edge 40 Under 40 Awards, is a member of the Optimist Club of Green Valley-Sahuarita and has served in multiple roles, including president, for the Arizona School Administrators Association.
Arkansas: Keri Rathbun
School: Northside High School (Fort Smith, Arkansas)
Bottom line: Keri Rathburn spent the first 13 years of her career as a K-12 music teacher and school counselor before moving into administration, first in junior high and then in high school.
Northside High became the first Model Professional Learning Community High School in the state under Rathbun, who is also an adjunct instructor at Arkansas Tech University working with future teachers and school counselors.
California: John Briquelet
School: Whitney High School (Cerritos, California)
Bottom line: One of the three finalists for National Principal of the Year in 2023, Cal State Fullerton alum John Briquelet is now the chancellor at the Oxford Preparatory Academy's new middle school in his third decade as an educator. Briquelet has been a principal at secondary schools for almost 20 years and separated himself from the pack at Whitney High, ranked as the No. 1 high school in California and No. 14 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.
He has carved out a reputation of bringing about "systemic change" to every campus he's worked on in the most telling ways possible — better academic performances, better graduation rates, better college admission rates, and fewer expulsions and suspensions.
Colorado: Bill Summers
School: Canon City High School (Canon City, Colorado)
Bottom line: Bill Summers graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and served 23 years in the Air Force as a pilot before finishing his career as a colonel and vice wing commander in Kuwait. He returned to his alma mater, Canon City High, following his military career and taught English along with coaching volleyball and the debate team before becoming principal.
Under Summers' leadership, Canon City High has established a new, comprehensive curriculum focused on creating careers, capstone projects for graduation, community internships and "experiential learning." Twice, Summers has stood in front of the state legislature and testified on behalf of work-based learning reform. Summers is truly a champion for the students in his hometown.
Connecticut: Donna Hayward
School: Haddam Killingworth High School (Higganum, Connecticut)
Bottom line: Donna Hayward was a high school math teacher, then assistant principal and principal at Rocky Hill High for a decade before moving to Suffield High and then to her current position as the principal at Haddam Killingworth High.
In Hayward's time at Haddam Killingworth, the school has earned National Blue Ribbon status for four consecutive years, and she was a National Principal of the Year finalist in 2022. This isn't Hayward's first time being honored for her work in school administration — she was the Connecticut Assistant Principal of the Year in 2006.
Delaware: Kristina Failing
School: F. N. Postlethwait Middle School (Camden, Delaware)
Bottom line: Kristina Failing has worked as an administrator for the Caesar Rodney School District for two decades after serving as a special education teacher in the Capital School District and as an adjunct professor for Wilmington University.
Under Failing's leadership, Postlethwait Middle was awarded the National Unified Champion School Banner for Special Olympics and was recognized by ESPN for its accomplishments.
Florida: Adam Lane
School: Haines City High School (Haines City, Florida)
Bottom line: Adam Lane is closing in on his third decade as an educator after beginning his career in 1995. Laine has worked on the elementary, middle and high school levels as a teacher, department head, coach, athletic trainer, athletic director, assistant principal, IB coordinator and principal.
As the principal of Haines City High, he oversees a staggering 2,800 students along with 241 staff and a half-dozen assistant principals. In the last decade at Haines City under Lane's leadership, there has been a 40 percent decrease in disciplinary referrals paired with a 21 percent increase in the graduation rate — numbers that show Lane's work is truly making an impact in the lives of his students. Bravo.
Georgia: LeAnne McCall
School: Lowndes High School (Valdosta, Georgia)
Bottom line: Lowndes High is home to 3,100 students under LeAnne McCall's guidance, where she's established Crimson Creed, a SPARK mentor program, Shop with a Viking and Sources of Strength as student-centered activities at the school.
McCall began her professional career in the private sector before moving to education, where she was a middle school teacher before becoming an assistant principal and curriculum director.
Hawaii: Laura Ahn
School: Niu Valley Middle School (Honolulu, Hawaii)
Bottom line: Laura Ahn won a Blue Ribbon as the principal at Kalihi Uka Elementary in 2018 and has also served as vice principal at Kalani High and Ka'ahumanu Elementary. Ahn started her career in education as an elementary school teacher and came to Niu Valley Middle in a time of incredible turnover when half of the school's veteran teachers had left.
With Ahn in charge, Niu Valley Middle found a way to decrease staff turnover and achieve a 100 percent graduation rate and 95 percent attendance rate as well as doubling the number of licensed teachers for two years in a row.
Idaho: Moss Strong
School: Homedale Middle School (Homedale, Idaho)
Bottom line: Moss Strong is moving into her fourth decade in education after she got her start teaching middle school P.E. and health in the late 1990s before moving to Caldwell High in 2002, where she eventually became an assistant principal in 2007 and then middle school principal in 2010.
Since becoming principal at Homedale Middle, students have seen their test scores triple in proficiency.
Illinois: Keith Wood
School: Brooks Middle School (Bolingbrook, Illinois)
Bottom line: Principal Keith Wood's Brooks Middle School is a bastion for diversity, serving 1,100 students between sixth and eighth as well as offering the district bilingual program.
Wood has pioneered an "equity design team" at Brooks Middle that encourages staff to explore and enrich "equity-based practices" across the building. Brooks Middle has also teamed up with Will County Health Clinic to create an onsite location at the school as well as Heart Haven Outreach to support students' needs in regard to their mental health. Wood isn't one to rest on his laurels — or shy away from another challenge — as he's also the co-chair of The Principals' Center Advisory Board and works with Harvard University's Leadership Evolving Vision summer institute.
Indiana: Michael Cox
School: Noblesville High School (Noblesville, Indiana)
Bottom line: Michael Cox is closing in on 30 years as an educator, having served in so many capacities that it makes him invaluable to his school district and the students he oversees.
Cox has spent time teaching in middle schools, as a coach for athletic and academic teams, as an athletic director, a high school assistant principal, a high school principal and, currently, the Dean of Students at Noblesville High.
Iowa: Jeremy Jones
School: Holmes Junior High School (Cedar Falls, Iowa)
Bottom line: Jeremy Jones spent nine years as a teacher and coach at Iowa City West High before moving into administration as dean of students and director of activities at South Tama Middle in 2011. Jones continued those roles at South Tama High, where he was also assistant principal, then at Peet Junior High before he was hired to be the principal at Holmes Junior High in 2016.
With Jones leading the way, Holmes has been a consistent "High Performing" school on the Iowa School Report Card and earned the highest composite score for all junior highs in Iowa.
Kansas: Caleb Smith
School: Newton High School (Newton, Kansas)
Bottom line: Former Garden City Community College and Kansas State quarterback Caleb Smith grew up around educators — his father was a well-known high school football coach in Kansas. Caleb Smith was hired as Newton High's principal in 2020 after spending seven years in the Valley Center School District and quickly put his imprint on the school. Case in point: He created a student advocacy group to give students a real voice when it comes to their district as well as created The Sunshine Club for students to take an active role in positive actions within the district and the Newton community in general.
Smith also does a really simple thing that more administrators could do to distinguish themselves — he shows up to Newton High events with a camera and takes pictures. Those pictures find themselves in local newspapers and websites. And, in turn, people in the community and world at large get to see the accomplishments of Newton High students. Crazy how that works, right? Great work by Caleb Smith.
Kentucky: Jeremy Camron
School: Owensboro Day Treatment (Owensboro, Kentucky)
Bottom line: Few principals on this list can say they've seen one of their initiatives turned into state law, which was what Jeremy Camron did when he helped spearhead a push to draft legislation to allow students in alternative education programs to pursue high school equivalency diplomas — now known as state law HB 194.
Camron's push to make the change was in no doubt tied to the school he leads, Owensboro Day Treatment, which operates within the Department of Juvenile Justice and has stated goals of "allowing students to transition successfully to a track leading to graduation as well as an increased pass rate on the GED."
Louisiana: Ronnie Harvey
School: Washington Marion Magnet High School (Lake Charles, Louisiana)
Bottom line: While he's been an educator for almost 20 years, it took Ronnie Wayne Harvey Jr. less than two years as the principal at Washington Marion High to create a sea change within the school, improving school performance scores by 15 percent and overseeing leaps in enrollment, graduation rates and student readiness for college and career paths.
Harvey was promoted to administrative director of special services and alternative programs in the District of Calcasieu Parish in Lake Charles after he was named Principal of the Year. He is also one of several former Division I athletes to earn Principal of the Year honors — he was a three-year starter on the offensive line for the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.
Maine: Paula Callan
School: Messalonskee High School (Oakland, Maine)
Bottom line: Paula Callan just hit 40 years working in education — a career that began as a high school special education teacher and field hockey coach.
Callan has made history as the first person to win both Maine Principal of the Year and Maine Assistant Principal of the Year, which she won in 2016. Callan has been heavily involved with the Maine Principals Association during her time as an administrator, serving as a committee member, chairperson, board member and president since 2020.
Maryland: James Allrich
School: Argyle Middle School (Silver Spring, Maryland)
Bottom line: James Allrich has been the principal at Argyle Magnet Middle since 2015, and he's become a leader for being a "student-centered, anti-racist leader" among Maryland schools. When Allrich found out male students of color were late to class at a much higher rate than other students, he changed the approach to coming to class with the thought of making them feel more welcome at school. He has also served on the Board of Directors for the Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals as well as headed up the MCAAP Middle School Principals Professional Learning Community.
And that's not all: Allrich was named the English Language Development Principal of the Year by his district in 2019 and won the Dr. Edward Shirley Award for Excellence in Educational Administration and Supervision in 2022.
Massachusetts: Hugh Galligan
School: Norwood High School (Norwood, Massachusetts)
Bottom line: Dr. Hugh Galligan taught English and special education in Boston Public Schools before transitioning to a role in administration as an assistant principal and associate principal in Hanover, where he also coached football, track and field and rugby.
As Norwood High's principal since 2017, Dr. Galligan oversaw a schedule redesign in 2020 that addressed "four core needs" of educator collaboration time, personalized learning time for students, career prep and project-based learning and choice and voice for the student body. The new program, now in its second year, has received acclaim for helping both students and faculty to reach their full potential.
Michigan: Nicole Carter
School: Novi High School (Novi, Michigan)
Bottom line: Novi High principal Nicole Carter is a high achiever who thinks outside the box. She once sponsored an event where students wrote stressful words on old vehicles and were allowed to (literally!) crush the cars in an effort to "crush the stigma" those words held with the students.
Carter has been an educator for over 20 years — as a teacher, dean of students and assistant principal before moving into her current role at Novi High. Her work has been recognized several times in the past as the Michigan Lottery African American Educator of the Year as well as being singled out by the Oakland County Coordinating Council Against Domestic Violence. Carter's plate is always full, as she also serves as the president of the Kensington Lakes Activities Association and vice president of the Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletics Association.
Minnesota: Nathaniel Messick
School: Fertile-Beltrami Public School (Fertile, Minnesota)
Bottom line: Nathaniel Messic spent 16 years as a teacher and coach at Norman County East High in Twin Valley before being hired in 2014 as principal of Fertile-Beltrami Public School', which serves several small communities along the Minnesota/North Dakota Border.
Messick has been a beacon of light for Fertile-Beltrami in his time there, with the school earning recognition as a Reward School from the Minnesota Department of Education several times as well as being named a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
Mississippi: Brett Robinson
School: Clinton High School (Clinton, Mississippi)
Bottom line: Clinton High alum Brett Robinson began his career working as a science teacher at Clinton Alternative School before moving to Clinton High, where he taught science and coached football. In 2012, Robinson was promoted to career and technical education director for the entire Clinton Public School District, and after five years in that role, he was hired as the principal at Clinton High.
In April 2023, Robinson was named career and technical education director for the entire state.
Missouri: April Adams
School: Liberty High School (Liberty, Missouri)
Bottom line: Dr. April Adams worked as a special education teacher at the start of her career before moving into administration in the early 2000s. Liberty High hired Dr. Adams in 2004 to oversee professional development and student success, and she became the school's principal in 2009.
She has been at the forefront of making mental health a priority for her students — Liberty High now has two emotional-support dogs and an on-site mental health professional for faculty and staff. That's not just talking the talk — that's walking the walk.
Montana: Jeff Uhren
School: Billings Senior High School (Billings, Montana)
Bottom line: Jeff Uhren has been with Billings High since 1998 when he started as a math teacher, football coach and softball coach — a role he served in until he was promoted to assistant principal in 2005 and named principal in 2016.
Uhren, who was named Montana Assistant Principal of the Year in 2008, has routinely received credit for creating a safe and positive learning environment for his students.
Nebraska: Brian Fleischman
School: Overton Public School (Overton, Nebraska)
Bottom line: Brian Fleishman taught math and coached golf and boys basketball for 10 years at Cedar Bluffs Public School before coming to Overton, where he led the golf team to two state runner-up finishes and one state championship after being hired as principal and activities director in 2008. Fleischman is notably a member of the Nebraska State Association of Secondary School Principals for the last decade, serving as region president and membership coordinator.
One thing Fleischman has done with his students that seems like it could be emulated across the country is a "Principal Birthday Selfie" — he seeks out students on their birthdays, takes a selfie with them and posts it to Twitter. You know what kids like? Selfies. And social media. Principal Fleishman … you went two for two.
Nevada: Zachary Robbins
School: Cheyenne High School (North Las Vegas, Nevada)
Bottom line: Dr. Zachary Robbins' success as an administrator goes coast-to-coast — before coming to Cheyenne High, he was the principal at Academy of Public Service High in Boston, Massachusetts, where the school was recognized as one of the most improved schools in the state and singled out as a "distinguished practice" school by the Boston College Lynch School of Education.
Robbins improved Marvin Sedway Middle in Las Vegas from a one-star to a three-star school as principal before taking on his role at Cheyenne High, where he created the first "restorative justice program" in Nevada and drastically reduced exclusionary discipline rates. After one year with Robbins, Cheyenne posted its highest graduation rates in school history — which it continues to do.
Robbins is also an author — he wrote "Restorative Justice Tribunal: And Ways to Derail Jim Crow Discipline in Schools," which was released in 2021. What can't this guy do?
New Jersey: Stella Nwanguma
School: Winslow Township Middle School (Atco, New Jersey)
Bottom line: Stella Nwanguma has been receiving accolades as an educator for almost 30 years — she was named Lanning Square Elementary Teacher of the Year in 1995 and spent several decades teaching before moving to administration.
Nwanguma was hired as the principal at Winslow Township Middle in 2009 and won the Winslow Township School District Superintendent's Trailblazer Award in 2022. During this time, Winslow Township Middle was also recognized as a Green Ribbon School by New Jersey and was one of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School Award honorees in 2021.
New Mexico: Rocky Torres
School: Farmington High School (Farmington, New Mexico)
Bottom line: Rocky Torres is a Farmington High grad who taught math in San Antonio, Texas, before returning to his home state of New Mexico, first as the principal at Vista Nueva High in Aztec before becoming the principal at Farmington High in 2021.
Under Torres' leadership, Farmington High saw an immediate, sharp spike in graduation rates — the best at the school in over two decades.
New York: Mark Erlenwein
School: Staten Island Technical High School (Staten Island, New York)
Bottom line: Mark Erlenwein is a Staten Island Tech graduate who returned in 1997 as a STEAM teacher before transitioning to assistant principal in 2005 and then eventually becoming principal. Those are some basic facts.
One reason we love Erlenwein, Columbia University's 2018 Cahn Fellowship recipient, is he pointed out that the school's acronym is SITHS — as in the evil Sith Lords from the "Star Wars" franchise — and also wore an R2D2 suit on May 4, which is traditionally known as "Star Wars Day" across the world.
Erlenwein also did away with a traditional grading system, moving from number grades to a combo of "mastery-based" and letter grades. The point is the school is cutting edge, and he's the kind of principal anyone would want.
North Carolina: Elena Ashburn
School: Needham B. Broughton Magnet High School (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Bottom line: Broughton Magnet High isn't the first example of Elena Ashburn turning around the fortunes of a school — she led East Garner Middle out of "low-performing" status in 2016 as its principal. In Ashburn's time at Broughton, she has led the school to the highest graduation rate of all time for three years running, elevated the ninth-grade promotion rate by 50 percent, and teacher retention levels also reached an all-time high.
Ashburn has also received the UNC Distinguished Alumna Award and was the North Carolina Wells Fargo Principal of the Year in 2021.
North Dakota: Tonya Hunskor
School: TGU Granville School (Granville, North Dakota)
Bottom line: Tonya Hunskor retired in May 2022 after 28 years as an educator and 21 years as the principal and athletic director at TGU Granville School but has continued on in the role of school support specialist for the North Central Education Cooperative. She's also still involved with the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders Mentorship Program.
Hunskor has a pretty phenomenal backstory as a third-generation educator after her grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse and her father was an elementary school principal.
Ohio: Monica Asher
School: Chagrin Falls High School (Chagrin Falls, Ohio)
Bottom line: Now serving as the principal at Olentangy Orange High, Monica Asher was honored for her work at Chagrin Falls High, where she oversaw a "cultural renovation" for the faculty and staff — a wholesale change to the school's approach to educating its students.
Asher is also on the board of directors for the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators, serves as the chair for the OASSA Women’s Leadership Committee and has a spot on the Ohio Department of Education’s Educator Standards Board.
Oklahoma: Terry Adams
School: Bixby High School (Bixby, Oklahoma)
Bottom line: Terry Adams has almost 30 years of experience as an educator and earned his recognition as Oklahoma Principal of the Year at Bixby High — he's currently the director of the Oklahoma Aviation Academy at Norman Public Schools.
Under Adams' leadership at Bixby, it was the only high school in Oklahoma to be recognized as a Great Expectations Model School for five consecutive years.
Oregon: Michelle Jonas
School: Crook County High School (Prineville, Oregon)
Bottom line: There is one very finite stat you can point to in determining whether or not a high school principal has been successful. And that's graduation rates.
Crook County High's Michelle Jonas was hired as principal in 2012 and improved the school's graduation rate from 59 percent in 2013 to over 98 percent in 2021 — that's the kind of stuff they make movies about. Jonas has been with the Crook County School District for 20 years, including four years as an assistant principal at Crook County High before she was promoted to principal.
Pennsylvania: Ryan Caufman
School: Central York High School (York, Pennsylvania)
Bottom line: Ryan Caufman spent two years as an assistant principal at Central York before being promoted to principal in 2008. Caufman has been credited with keeping Central York connected to his community that puts the emphasis on student and faculty agency with the school's direction.
Caufman has also been a member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard for the last 22 years.
Rhode Island: Scott Barr
School: Classical High School (Providence, Rhode Island)
Bottom line: Scott Barr has been the principal at Classical High for the last 16 years after spending time as an assistant principal at Cranston High. Barr has guided Classical High to becoming a Top 100 school, according to U.S. News and World Report, and it was also awarded Blue Ribbon School status in 2017.
Like many principals on this list, Barr has made a point of making the mental health of his students a priority by hiring a full-time social worker to address those issues. Barr also serves on the Principals Committee on Athletics for the Rhode Island Interscholastic League.
South Carolina: Andrew McMillan
School: Chapman High School (Inman, South Carolina)
Bottom line: Chapman High Principal Andrew McMillan instituted a leadership point for his school to highlight what life will be like for the students after high school. Called the "Four Es," the point stands for Entrepreneur, Enrolled, Enlisted and Employable — which might seem like an oversimplification, but we love it because those are all positives.
And the results are hard to argue with, as Chapman High was named a National Blue Ribbon School and also an Exemplary High Performing School in 2020. McMillan was also named the Outstanding Principal of the Year by the South Carolina Art Education Association in 2019.
South Dakota: Colin Knudson
School: Tea Area High School (Tea, South Dakota)
Bottom line: Colin Knudson has been the principal at Tea Area High since 2012 after beginning his career teaching math, English and computer science at the middle and high school levels. Knudson got his start in administration in Kimball, South Dakota, in middle school and then high school levels before moving to Tea Area.
At Tea Area, Knudson put a Freshman Academy in place as well as initiated a "Student Connections" network and added a graduation coach. Knudson is also the president of the South Dakota Association of Secondary School Principals for Region 6. In 2022, the Tea Area district passed a bond item that will double the school's size and add much-needed enhancements to the arts, academics and athletics programs for the high school.
Tennessee: Pam Vaden
School: Ravenwood High School (Brentwood, Tennessee)
Bottom line: The first and only principal in Ravenwood High history, Dr. Pam Vaden saw Ravenwood's enrollment go from 540 students when it first opened in 2002 to over 2,000 students currently.
Ravenwood was given the National Blue Ribbon Award for Excellence in 2015 and has been ranked among America's Best High Schools several times.
Texas: David Arencibia
School: Colleyville Middle School (Colleyville, Texas)
Bottom line: Colleyville Middle School has been a beacon of light for the community under the leadership of Dr. David Arencibia, who was previously named Texas Region 11 Assistant Principal of the Year.
With Dr. Arencibia leading the way, Colleyville Middle has been named a Texas School to Watch, a Nationally Recognized Model Campus and won a National PTA School of Excellence. Colleyville Middle has also posted some of its highest academic scores in school history and, in the last three years, registered the highest participation numbers in their PTA.
Utah: Mindy Robison
School: Midvale Middle School (Midvale, Utah)
Bottom line: Mindy Robison spent 13 years teaching math and social studies before becoming her school district's math specialist and then moving into administration.
Robison was an elementary school principal first, and at Midvale, she has been the driving force behind achievement and engagement for the students. She was also the Utah Association of Career and Technology’s Administrator of the Year in 2021.
Vermont: David Schilling
School: Danville School (Danville, Vermont)
Bottom line: David Schilling has been the principal at rural Danville Middle and High School since 2018, serving grades Pre-K through 12th grade. Before that, he was the principal at another Pre-K through 12th school at Cabot Middle and High School, which served students from 3 to 18 years old.
Before becoming a principal, Schilling helped implement a technical education program at Cabot that worked in conjunction with the regional career and tech ed centers. Students have been empowered to act under Schilling, where they've created working coffee shops on campus along with a public river access point. Schilling's background shows why he's been able to think outside the box as an administrator — he worked in outdoor education for almost a decade and led expeditions across the country ranging from ones along the Colorado River to the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Virginia: James Garst
School: Andrew Lewis Middle School (Salem, Virginia)
Bottom line: James Garst taught chemistry and biology at Salem High before becoming the principal at Andrew Lewis Middle in 2017. He especially excelled with the return of students to in-school learning after the pandemic.
Using the Ron Clark Academy model of a "House System" for students to create a better sense of belonging upon their return, Garst implemented an advisory period that helps students feel more comfortable in their environment. Garst's success scored him not only Virginia Principal of the Year honors but also saw him featured as a speaker at the annual conferences for the Virginia Middle School Association and the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals.
Washington: Brad Wilson
School: Chelan High School (Chelan, Washington)
Bottom line: Brad Wilson was an assistant principal at Chelan Middle for three years before he was hired as principal at Chelan High in 2016, and he's been a leader in bringing diversity into the school. Most notably, Wilson has overseen the addition of a Chicano Studies course and added "college-level" courses that directly responded to faculty, student and community needs on the path to more courses where students can earn dual credits.
Chelan is now the superintendent of the entire Lake Chelan School District.
West Virginia: Cassandra Porter
School: John Marshall High School (Wheeling, West Virginia)
Bottom line: Cassandra Porter was principal at Sherrard Middle for five years before she became principal in 2015 at John Marshall High, where she has spearheaded a fabrication lab and helped secure a maker space grant for her school. Using tools she learned at Sherrard, Porter's fabrication lab at John Marshall High became the first MIT-certified lab of its kind in West Virginia — all of which was partially funded by a $300 grant.
Porter has had her work as a principal recognized before after being named Project Lead the Way's Outstanding Educational Leader in 2018.
Wisconsin: Dr. Anuradha Ebbe
School: Cherokee Heights Middle School (Madison, Wisconsin)
Bottom line: Cherokee Heights Middle principal Dr. Anuradha Ebbe is no stranger to her schools receiving acclaim — as the principal of Shorewood Hills Elementary, she saw her school awarded the National Blue Ribbon Award for Academic Achievement, the National Welcoming Schools Seal of Excellence and the United Nations Equity Award.
Dr. Ebbe has pushed the envelope at Cherokee Heights when it comes to challenging racist beliefs that lead to learning gaps for students and systems that don't provide equal opportunities to all students. She also serves on Harvard University's Principal Center Advisory Board and was named one of the Most Influential Asian Americans in Wisconsin in 2021.
Wyoming: Ryan Mackey
School: Douglas High School (Douglas, Wyoming)
Bottom line: Douglas High Principal Ryan Mackey has been in education for almost 20 years, starting as a social studies teacher and coach for almost a decade before becoming a middle school assistant principal and athletic director.
Mackey became the middle school principal in 2016 and, in 2019, was named principal at Douglas High, where he's credited with being a driving force behind a positive school climate and culture.