Distinguished Principal

Distinguished Principal

Four Coast school principals are among the first in the nation to be recognized as “distinguished principals” by a national education leadership company.

The National Institute of School Leadership honored principals Dawn Hearn of Woolmarket Elementary School, Shelly Simmons of River Oaks Elementary School, Sandra Case Wilks of Central Elementary School and Cynthia Grimes of Saucier Elementary School.

NISL selected 17 educators in Mississippi, mostly principals, out of more than 1,100 participating candidates.  

Districts in Mississippi and two other states have partnered with the Washington, D.C.-based company under a three-year, $11 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.  

NISL offers professional development programs for education leaders and principals. CEO Jason Dougal said the company’s goal is to provide those leaders with resources to better educate their peers and students.  

“Eventually, we’d like those selected to take what they’ve learned back to the school districts they come from and spread what they’ve learned to others,” he said.  

Each principal selected went through a rigorous evaluation process that included intensive instruction, Simmons said.  




We were all graded,” she said. “We looked at how students learn, but we also learned ourselves on how to be become better leaders,” she said.

Principals also are expected to do their own homework, Grimes said.

“It’s about being a continuous learner ourselves. As we prepare other principals on what we’ve learned, we’re required to study and to learn ourselves,” she said.

Grimes said the process was enlightening.

“We learned a number of things from working with NISL,” she said. “One of those was to consider a student’s environment and external factors. It can go a long way in determining how they learn.”

NISL’s goal is to eventually improve education in every district in the state, Simmons said.

“It’s like a pyramid effect. The end goal is to spread this statewide,” Simmons said.