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Introducing 2015’s National Distinguished Principals

By Connie Buford
Introducing 2015’s National Distinguished Principals

The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) each year sponsors the National Distinguished Principals Award Program. This program honors exceptional elementary and middle school principals (as well as heads of small schools which do not have principals) from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Department of Defense Schools, and American overseas schools assisted by the Office of Overseas Schools, U.S. Department of State.
The two award winners for 2015 from the U.S. Department of State-assisted schools are Catarina Song Chen from the American School of Belo Horizonte (EABH), Brazil, and Michael Schooler from the International Community School of Addis Ababa (ICSA), Ethiopia.
Catarina Song Chen is both the head of school and the elementary principal at the American School of Belo Horizonte. EABH is a school of 304 students, nursery through high school, and is recognized as an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP) and Middle Years Program (MYP) World School.
Prior to moving to Brazil, Catarina was an elementary school teacher in the U.S. for eight years. Her teaching experience goes well beyond her time in public school classrooms. She taught teachers at the district level and worked on action research at the national level with the Disney Creative Learning Community in partnership with the Los Angeles Music Center.
She began her international career in education management at EABH as the PYP coordinator in 2008 and was promoted to principal/director in 2009. Under Catarina’s leadership, EABH tripled its enrollment and revenues were dramatically increased; she also implemented a series of changes that significantly improved the school’s overall performance. She feels that one of her most significant accomplishments is establishing a culture of integration and collaboration across all cultural backgrounds, ages, and stakeholders.
She has also involved the entire school community in revising the school’s foundational documents which included a new vision/mission statement, as well as new core values and beliefs. From 2012-2014, Catarina served as the President of the Association of American Schools in Brazil (AASB) and is currently a member of the Board of Trustees at the Association of American Schools of South America (AASSA).
Catarina is a product of international education and a Third Culture Kid (TCK). Born in Seoul, South Korea, she also lived in Asuncion, Paraguay, for many years until her family settled in the U.S., where she went on to attend public schools in California.
She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and a Master’s Degree in Administration from Pepperdine University, Malibu, California.
Catarina believes that having fun is an attitude and aptitude necessary to make all hard work relevant and meaningful. She is married to a Chinese-Brazilian-American TCK and has two children.
Michael Schooler is currently in his nineteenth year as an elementary principal and in his second year as the elementary principal at ICSA, which has an enrollment of 824 students, with 481 students in the elementary school. ICSA offers an American curriculum along with the International Baccalaureate programs.
Prior to coming to Addis Ababa, Michael was the principal of Washington Elementary School in Canon City, Colorado. He served as a special education teacher before he was a principal in other schools in Colorado and Texas. Michael earned his Bachelor of Science and Master of Education degrees from South Texas State University and Angelo State University Texas.
Michael started out working oil fields in West Texas; but with the help and mentoring of some great teachers and principals, he eventually found his “passion” as an educator/consultant, both in the U.S. and abroad.
An important event in his career was hearing Sir Kenneth Robinson speak on creativity and schools at a National Association of School Boards meeting in Colorado. Afterwards, he reflected on the fact that some schools “squashed creativity” and so decided that he and the teachers at his school would work on developing a culture that put student creativity first. By shifting his focus from performance to creativity, he created a better learning environment, while increasing student and teacher performance and overall growth.
Michael is an advocate for students with special needs and has worked diligently to acquire funding, as well as develop programs for students with all types of learning needs. At ICSA he is striving to create not only support for the students, but also to build awareness in a country where children with special needs are not understood.
Michael is married with one daughter. He is involved with a number of service projects in Ethiopia, including programs that feed public school students during the day and provide training to public school educators and leaders in best practices. He has many interests outside of school including white water rafting (he is a licensed guide in Colorado), hiking, and fishing. He and his wife also love the travel that comes with his position.
Along with all of the winning principals from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Department of Defense Schools, Catarina and Michael will be celebrated at the National Distinguished Principals two-day program which will take place in Washington, DC, October 16-17, 2015. There will be a festive gala on Thursday, October 16th, at the Department of State Diplomatic Reception Rooms as well as a dinner dance, where the Secretary of Education will be the honored guest and speaker, on Friday, October 17th, at the Hilton Hotel.

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