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NASSP and MetLife Name Middle School Principal of the Year

From guest blogger Alyssa Morones

At Samuel Wilder King Intermediate School in Kaneohe, Hawaii, a surprise assembly was scheduled in order to announce principal Sheena Alaiasa's selection as the 2014 MetLife/NASSP National Middle Level Principal of the Year.

Each year, MetLife and the National Association of Secondary Principals select one middle and one high school principal to honor as the national principal of the year. The winners will be honored at a black-tie gala in Washington, D.C., on September 20, leading into National Principals Month in October. Both winners will receive a $5,000 grant to help further improve learning in their schools.

When the New Zealand-born Alaiasa took over at King Intermediate in 2008, the school was plagued with disorder and poor academics, according to a press release from the NASSP. Even after several restructuring attempts in the years proceeding Alaiasa's arrival, the school's scores had continued to fall. After four years under her leadership, though, the school was recognized as a winner of the state's 2012 STRIVE HI award for its gains toward improvement through closing the achievement gap.

Despite the school's high poverty rate, with more than 50 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price meals, the school attendance rate is 94 percent. Between 2010 and 2012, math proficiency increased 30 percentage points for all populations, while reading proficiency levels increased 15 percentage points for all students and 23 percentage points for economically disadvantaged students.

Alaiasa attributes the school's ability to improve its academics to a culture that values its people—students, faculty, and community members alike. The school motto, or SAM for Student Achievement Matters, reflects this communal commitment.

In line with this motto, and to guarantee her students were learning in a personalized environment, the principal instituted an advisory program consistent with the NASSP's Breaking Ranks Framework for School improvement, which focuses on collaborative leadership, a personalized school environment, and improving student performance.

Personalized academic support is a running theme for the award's winners. Last year, MetLife and the NASSP commended middle school principal Laurie Barron, whose commitment to success was a driving force behind the turnaround of Smoke Road Middle School in Newnan, Ga. Through staff support and development and personalized supplemental instruction for students, the school's rate of absenteeism decreased by 11 percent and state test scores in reading and math increased over 20 percent.

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