10 Outstanding Principals: Meet the 2015 Best in Education Prize Finalists

| Rich Tatum

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We here at TheBestSchools.org have been combing through the candidates for the Escalante–Gradillas $20,000 Prize for Best in Education and we are pleased to announce our 2015 top 10 finalists. The 2015 finalists are primary and secondary school administrators who demonstrate a wide range of gifts, experiences, and accomplishments. Every one of these leaders has proven his or her ability to overcome odds, rally the team, and cultivate educational success where weaker wills could not.

The finalists are listed here in alphabetic order.

The 2015 Best in Education Finalists

Daniel GeorgeCreative Technologies Academy

Daniel George Creative Technology AcademySuperintendent and School Leader
(Cedar Springs, MI)

Daniel George is a servant leader at Creative Technologies Academy (CTA), a charter school in Cedar Springs Michigan with about 300 students. Dan's experience in the business world (25 years) and as a basketball coach at a local college have molded his leadership style for teamwork, efficiency, and the work ethic to “keep getting better.” Yet, make no mistake, Mr. George's first love is not business, or basketball, it's education. His educational credentials include a BA in History and Teacher Certification from Hartwick College (Oneonta, NY) and an MA in Curriculum and Instruction from the College of Education at Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI). When Mr. George first arrived at Creative Technologies Academy, the school was facing a 50% student poverty rate (whose household income was at or below the poverty line), and the school was struggling in probationary status, barely maintaining accreditation. But before long, the school's state grades rose 31% and now CTA “exceeds expectations.” This was a marginal school that's now an academic leader.

Mr. George's methods emphasize leadership training and community engagement programs. For example, he has worked with his teachers and staff to develop leadership curriculum, emphasizing character, service learning, and college readiness. Effectively, this model empowers students to take responsibility for their community, actively apply their learning, and contribute to the overall health of their school. One spotlight for community engagement is “Coffee with Mr. George,” a monthly 7am open door gathering to chat about the school, its direction, and its role in the community. Dan's peers describe him as a man of strong moral fiber and integrity. In applying for this award, Dan couldn't help but commend his fellow administrators and educators as his team of sacrificial servants. Who wouldn't want to work hard with that kind of encouraging support?

Stacy R. Gill-PhillipsWest Philadelphia Charter Elementary School

Founder and Principal
(Philadelphia, PA)

Dr. Stacy R. Gill-Phillipps is no stranger to adversity. As principal at the West Philadelphia Charter Elementary School, she works in an urban setting, with a 98% African-American student body and a poverty rate of 95%. Combine these factors with statewide budget cuts, and newly intensified academic standards and you've get a recipe for failure – except it didn't fail. Through Dr. Gill-Phillipps's leadership, the school has maintained poise, dignity, and resilience—just like Gill-Phillipps herself. She has secured grants to help offset budget cuts, establish a community learning center, advance school improvement projects, and facilitate professional development (for teachers). She's also fostered community partnerships and introduced service learning activities with local charities. Dr. Gill-Phillips certainly knows how to “make more from less.”

Dr. Gill-Phillipps is good at what she does, and not just because she exudes persistence. She is an accomplished academic herself with several publishings, along with earned degrees in Business Administration Management (BA; Penn State), Elementary Education and Curriculum Instruction (MA; Temple University), and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2012 she received the AIM Educator award.

These accomplishments are all the more impressive in light of her tumultuous background. Dr. Gill-Phillipps was born and raised by a single mother. Dr. Gill-Phillipps was born and raised by a single mother and later had 4 children of her own with her husband. A family that size is a handful. However, after the untimely death of her sister, McGill-Phillips and her husband stepped in and adopted the seven children her sister had left behind. At one point, they were caring for all eleven children in a two-bedroom apartment. It's no wonder she is so skilled at mentoring the over 650 students at her charter school! Gill-Phillipps commitment to charitable service did not go unnoticed and she was given the 2004 Papa Philippians award. Only a person as sacrificial and resilient as she is could do what she's done at home and at school. That can-do attitude has proved inspirational to students and teachers alike. She doesn't just teach her students to transform adversity into accomplishment. She has paved the way.

William “Woodland” JohnsonMort Elementary

William Woodland Johnson Mort Elementary Tampa FloridaPrincipal
(Tampa, FL)

William “Woodland” Johnson, the Principal at Mort Elementary School in Tampa Florida, is best described as an inspirational leader. He has a way of motivating teachers and students alike to work hard, keep a good attitude, and be socially responsible. Mr. Johnson utilizes a community school model of education where “We're all in this together.” And by “all,” he means more than just the student body, faculty and staff. To Mr. Johnson, “all” includes partnerships with local businesses, charity work off site, and various forms of community involvement. There are even plans for a community medical clinic, dentist, and subsidized housing. With a poverty rate of almost 100%, this school has to fill in gaps where the families and community struggle. The community school model has done just that. The effect has been improved parent involvement, stronger community awareness, fewer medical problems, greater social responsibility -- and of course -- measurable gains in grades and attendance. Add to that success, additional funding from 18+ different grants he's secured for the school.

With success like this, this school is more than a school. Under Mr. Johnson's influence, Mort Elementary school has become a community center, a professional development academy for teachers, a food/clothing pantry, and a family support clinic. As a result it has earned at least 15 different commendations including the 5-Star School award four years in a row. It shouldn't be surprising that this school rose over 180 positions

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