"The Best Learning Experience of My Career" Why You Should Nominate a Great Leader Today for POY.

David Cooke, Principal, Jemtegaard Middle School, Washougal School District
May 18, 2022

principal and assistant principal of the year in text with cartoon trophies

If you’re reading this and you know a phenomenal leader, please take a minute and nominate an incredible school leader for Principal of the Year or Assistant Principal of the Year. And if you are nominated, I promise it’s worth your time to apply. The program is so much more than just the prestige of winning an award — it’s a source of pride and celebration for your staff, students, district, and community. It was also a life-changing experience for me. You’ll find the letter I wrote to AWSP below. Not only will you see an experience of a lifetime, but I’ve come back a better leader for my school because of it.

Scott, Kim, and the AWSP team,

I am reaching out to thank you for supporting my trip to Washington, D.C. for the NASSP Principal of the Year conference. It was the best learning experience in my career. I was humbled and overwhelmed to be among the best principals in the nation. There are some true greats here that I have read about in the NASSP magazines for their work. Some worked in small schools like mine; others had schools with over 3,000 students. The ability to openly share ideas and get perspectives from all over the country was priceless. To leave the conference with a strong, nationwide support system was the best part of the entire trip. My new colleagues inspired me to continue striving for second-order change. And the beauty of the changes I want to make is that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel as somebody in this group has already successfully implemented it. I stole as many ideas as possible and look forward to implementing them in the future.

The conference gave me access like never before regarding education reform. A highlight of our trip was a day-long meeting at the Department of Education. We met with Secretary of Education Miguel Cardon and Deputy Secretary Cindy Martens. The principals were able to review, and problem solve national education issues with NASSP advocates and finalists for the National Honor Society. These NHS students were outstanding. The NHS students have accomplished so much. I don’t know when they sleep. I left that day at the Education Department feeling heard.

An unexpected bonus of this trip was that I was selected to represent the National POYs at the Teacher of the Year celebrations at the White House and representatives from Virginia, Delaware, and Florida. Gregg Wieczorek, NASSP President, and Immediate Past President Robert Motley. While there, I was fortunate to sit next to and meet Mandy Manning, 2018 Teacher of the Year. What an insight she has. I also met the 2021 Washington State Teacher of the Year, Jared Koepp, a native student program specialist from North Thurston Public Schools. Dr. Biden delivered a speech that clearly shows that education is at the heart of everything she does. President Biden was also motivating. An experience I won’t forget.

The NASSP cohort created at this conference continues to support each other online. During his nationwide tour, I received an in-person visit from NASSP President Gregg Wieczorek last week. As part of his travels, he is writing a blog. One of the questions he asked me was, “What is the best thing you have done in your building for less than $1,000?” I spoke about sending my Latin(x) students to the La Chispa Leadership Conference. This has enabled me to build relationships with the Latin(x) students and community.

I am honored to have represented AWSP. Your investment in me has been career-changing. It was so needed after this challenging year. It is genuinely appreciated. I am also grateful to my superintendent, Dr. Mary Templeton, and the Washougal School District team for nominating me. The time they took to fill out the necessary POY nomination form allowed me this incredible opportunity. I look forward to paying back my district with what I have learned from this trip.

Now take the time to nominate someone special today. They’ll be flattered, and it could be the opportunity of a lifetime for them and a massive win for their school.

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  • POY
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  • Assistant Principal of the Year
  • Principal of the Year
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