Bells Ring for Top Principals at National Blue Ribbon Schools Ceremony

Behind every great school stands a great principal. “It’s the principal who shapes the vision, sets the tone, and targets the energy of the many people who run a school, Sec. Duncan said. “It’s the principal who inspires, cajoles, and models the excellence he or she knows the school can reach.”

2012 Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding Leadership

From left to right: Kathy Raber and Marianne Stephens (accepting for Tracey McDaniel, OK), James Mireles (KS), Dianne Reynolds (AL), Blaine Helwig (TX), Liana Szeto (CA), Angela Carter (accepting for Pam Camper, AR), C. Todd Hall (MD).

Every year the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program invites nominations for the esteemed Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding Leadership. This year, seven principals of 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools have earned this distinction. They are:

  • Pam Camper, Principal of Russell D. Jones Elementary School in Rogers, Arkansas

    Frequently described as “tenacious,” Pam Camper reorganized her elementary school to maximize learning for her students, nearly three-quarters of whom are English learners, by hiring bilingual teachers and pairing classroom and English language development teachers as co-teachers. Through her outreach, parent attendance at parent-teacher conferences is 100%. Ms. Camper also spearheaded an extensive reading effort: Russell Jones Elementary raised funds to add more than 4,000 new books to the school library. Last year, more than 200 certified candidates applied for the few open teaching positions.

  • Christopher Todd Hall, Principal of Pocomoke Elementary School, Pocomoke City, Maryland
    Student performance at Pocomoke Elementary School performed was “persistently modest” when Todd Hall was appointed principal. After reviewing student data, Mr. Hall created a five-year plan to move Pocomoke from modest to masterful, based on: universal high expectations, data analysis, and data-driven instruction. Now every Pocomoke student has an individual learning plan—and a portrait in a graduation cap and gown in the school’s entryway. Mr. Hall empowered teachers through Common Core-aligned professional development, daily grade-level planning time, and peer-supported teaching assistance. Achievement gaps among student groups have been virtually eliminated.
  • Blaine Helwig, Principal of J. Walter Graham Elementary School, Austin, Texas
    To bring student scores from “barely acceptable” to exemplary in five years, Mr. Helwig devised strategies to help students master fundamental math and reading skills and designed a progress monitoring system for teachers that pinpoints what students know and what they need to learn next. He taps all specialists and staff to get extra help to students who need it. Mr. Helwig is also a skilled collaborator, bringing community and business groups in to build a School Garden and illustrate hallways with murals.
  • Tracy McDaniel, Principal of KIPP Reach College Preparatory School, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
    Mr. McDaniel stepped off a traditional path to school administration to follow his dream. In 2002, he opened KIPP Reach College Preparatory, a charter middle school in the economically battered inner city neighborhood where he grew up. Admitting students by open lottery, Mr. McDaniel has used KIPP-customized curricula and extended student time on task through longer school days, Saturday school, and summer programs to give KIPP Reach students the momentum to succeed in high school and earn places at highly selective colleges and universities across the country.
  • James Mireles, Principal of Garden City High School, Garden City, Kansas
    When James Mireles arrived, half of Garden City HS students were not passing the state reading test and two-thirds were not passing the math test. To turn the 2,000-pupil school around, he created four student-centered academies and dissolved the culture of teacher isolation, instituting professional learning communities and common planning time during the school day. With grant funding, Mr. Mireles spearheaded an early warning system to identify and reach students at risk of dropping out, bringing the graduation rate up 17%.
  • Dianne Reynolds, Principal of Spencer Elementary School, Mobile, Alabama
    Spencer Elementary was close to a state takeover when Dianne Reynolds took the helm in 2004. In that first year, she overhauled Spencer’s ideals, expectations, and methods. She instituted professional learning communities, regular data meetings, and targeted professional development. Ms. Reynolds championed student competitions in reading and math, introduced character education, and scheduled intervention and enrichment activities to meet targeted student needs. Spencer Elementary School has just celebrated its second year as an Alabama Torchbearer School, a high achieving, high poverty school.
  • Liana Szeto, Principal of Alice Fong Yu Alternative School, San Francisco, California
    Hired in 1984 as a kindergarten teacher in the nation’s first public school Chinese Immersion Program, Liana Szeto has been tireless in developing Chinese curricula and materials, and in drawing students from all backgrounds. 1995, she opened Alice Fong Yu Alternative School, the first Chinese Immersion middle school in the country, backed by the same kind of rigorous preparation that ensured success in the elementary level program. Ms. Szeto has inspired other San Francisco educators as well: more than 15 schools offer full immersion programs in four languages.


  1. I would be interested to know how Ms. Reynolds implemented the character education program. With many of the inner-city schools (and even suburban schools now), there is a big problem with behavior. As a classroom teacher, I am seeing how behavior management sucks up too much time in our classrooms. This greatly impacts learning. Are any of these type details available from any of the Principals?

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