My Exemplary Principal “Your Turn” was published in the Arizona Republic about celebrating exemplary principals in Maricopa County.

Columnist Joanna Allhands is right, there are too many unsung heroes in our schools and many worthy individuals in the education profession who are often left out of public education debates. (“Principals can make or break a school. Why do we overlook what they do?” May 20, 2019.)

That’s why over the last few weeks I have personally presented 11 Valley principals with Exemplary Principal awards based on a series of rigorous criteria and education-related benchmarks.

These are annual awards presented to individuals who are not just extraordinary principals, but are catalysts transforming schools into models for every aspiring principal in Maricopa County.

They got these awards because of the way they selflessly support and inspire teachers — all while budget constraints, pressure to increase efficiencies and other challenges threaten to interfere with the relationship between teacher and student.

This program shines a light on, and celebrates leaders who create an environment in which students and teachers thrive.

When I visited these schools I was struck by the pride and love each student and teacher felt for their principal. It further confirmed to me that we were doing the right thing and recognizing the right people for their hard work.

With more than 1,100 principals in our county’s district, charter and private schools, these individuals represent the top 1% of our county’s principals.

These award recipients are not just teachers but also profoundly talented and effective leaders who encourage teachers to be their best for kids.

The awards are given to principals who:

  • Exemplify practices and leadership (during the past three school years) that contribute to high expectations and exceptional student learning.
  • Actively engage staff, parents and community members in developing an effective school culture.
  • Put in place data to guide instruction and decisions regarding staff development.
  • Have a history of high teacher retention.
  • Demonstrate the ability to successfully develop and inspire others.

I spent 15 amazing years as a classroom teacher. I understand that good leadership in education is something we should never take for granted but instead be celebrated and shared.

My job as county school superintendent has a governing component: providing oversight of school district board, bond and override elections, filling school board vacancies, and monitoring school finances.

Those formal obligations are supplemented by the important work our office does to amplify teacher voices, elevate their profession, and provide resources that help schools deliver on their promise to educate our students.

Receiving an Exemplary Principal award is more than just a pat on the back for a job well done or an annual performance review that’s merely above the average.

These leaders are education heroes. I am honored to recognize them publicly for the work they do quietly. They are exceptional people responding to perhaps the highest calling — educating our children.

The 2019 Maricopa County Exemplary Principal Award Recipients are:

  • Dr. Ana Gomez del Castillo, Kyrene de los Lagos
  • Nancy Branch, Kyrene de la Mirada
  • Tony Smith, Auxier Elementary School
  • Tricia Graham, Canyon Springs STEM Academy
  • Dr. Linda Price-Barry, West Wing School
  • Thea Hansen, Carol Rae Elementary School
  • Megan Gestson, Irene Lopez Elementary School
  • Tamara Jagodzinski, Hopi Elementary School
  • Diana Cameron, Sandpiper Elementary School
  • Jessica Larsen, Aguilar Elementary School
  • John Trezise, Hermosa Vista Elementary School

Steve Watson is the Maricopa County school superintendent.