A Grand Island Public Schools elementary principal has been recognized as Nebraska’s outstanding new principal of the year.
Jefferson Elementary Principal Sheree Stockwell was honored Dec. 10 with the Nebraska Association of Elementary School Principals’ Outstanding New Principal of the Year Award at the Nebraska Council of School Administrators’ State Principals Conference, which took place virtually this year due to COVID-19.
Stockwell said she was told around Thanksgiving that she had received the award, but had to keep it a secret until after the conference.
“I couldn’t tell anybody, so that was kind of awkward; I celebrated silently,” she said. “I was surprised to get the nomination and to get the call that I had won the award. I thought they were calling to tell me, ‘Thank you for applying,’ but they told me that I had won.”
According to the NCSA website, the Outstanding New Principal of the Year Award is given annually to a person who has “demonstrated outstanding leadership in their school, their region and at the state level.” The individual also should “demonstrate their enthusiasm for the principalship by support from students, parents, teachers and peers.”
Once an administrator is nominated for the Outstanding New Principal of the Year Award, NCSA says the principal is mailed an application packet to return with a resume that includes their contributions to their profession and/or professional organization at the local, state and national levels, and four letters of recommendation.
In order to receive the award, NCSA says a principal must be nominated and selected before they begin their sixth year as an administrator.
The winner is selected by the NAESP Executive Board officers, the immediate past award recipient and the five region presidents after reviewing all the applications.
Stockwell said she does not know who nominated her for the award.
In her subsequent application, Stockwell said she talked about her professional journey and her “process of learning.” She has spent her entire career with GIPS, starting as a middle school English language learner teacher at Walnut and Westridge middle schools before becoming a learning facilitator and administrator at Barr in 2013.
Before teaching, Stockwell was a paraeducator at Seedling Mile Elementary and an after-school program supervisor at Dodge Elementary. She has been Jefferson principal since the start of the 2017-18 school year.
“Most of my experiences had been at the middle school, so I talked about going into elementary school and how I learned a lot from our staff here at Jefferson,” Stockwell said. “I thanked them because they’ve taught me a lot.”
Stockwell said she chose to become a principal because she loves working with teachers and students.
“So for me, it is a great balance,” she said. “I was an English Language Learners teacher for seven years, so I collaborated with teachers on strategies for English language learners. As a principal, I still get to do the same thing working with teachers and students.”
In her award application, Stockwell said she also talked about the challenges she has faced as principal. In her first year as principal, she said, GIPS temporarily moved Jefferson to the former Starr Elementary building (now the Wyandotte Learning Center) while a new Jefferson Elementary was built.
“Moving us across town and back my first year was a big learning curve, especially when that was my first year at an elementary school,” Stockwell said. “The school was small and just a different layout. Getting adjusted there and then moving us back to a completely different building was a challenge. Everything required new busing, new driving routes, new safety guidelines — everything was just new. A lot of people don’t have to re-establish those every time, but we did it twice in three years.”
As Jefferson principal, Stockwell said she also has overseen the transition to a Demonstration School for Rigor — an instructional framework through Learning Sciences International. At the district level, she said she serves on the GIPS safety team, the GIPS equity task force and the COVID-19 planning team for the GIPS Select Model.
Toni Palmer, GIPS chief of leadership and learning, said Stockwell has demonstrated the ability to “successfully navigate and lead through change while continuing to focus on continuous school improvement and improving student results.”
“Mrs. Stockwell is always advocating for what is in the best interest of the students,” Palmer said. “She has gained the trust, respect and support of others through her willingness to learn and grow alongside others. Mrs. Stockwell holds herself accountable and never backs down from a challenge or opportunity to have impact through her leadership.”
GIPS Superintendent Tawana Grover said it “has been remarkable” to watch Stockwell’s leadership journey throughout the years.
“She helped with the construction and development of Jefferson to a new home site and elevated it to its status as a Demonstration School for Rigor,” she said. “Mrs. Stockwell has been a rising star in our community for a while now and Grand Island Public Schools is so proud of all that she has and continues to accomplish.”
Stockwell said she rarely works in isolation and that she owes her award to the team of teachers and administrators she works with every day.
“It is our team that has made all the difference,” she said. “I feel like our whole entire school and our district won because it represents all the work we’ve done together.”