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Recognizing Exceptional Leaders

By Courtney Primus
Recognizing Exceptional Leaders

From left to right Theressa Smith, Darlene L. Huson, Peter T. Lee. 

"The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails." John Maxwell

Each year, the National Association of Secondary Principals (NASSP) and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) recognize exceptional school leaders who have contributed to the strengthening of the profession, the betterment of their schools, and the high-quality future of their students. Theressa Smith (Colegio Franklin D. Roosevelt, The American School of Lima, Peru) Darlene L. Huson (The American International School of Lusaka), and Peter T. Lee (The American International School of Muscat) were selected as this year’s honorees.

Theressa Smith was selected as the U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Schools’ NASSP Principal of the Year award recipient.

Theressa is in her seventh year as the high school principal of Colegio Franklin D. Roosevelt, The American School of Lima, Peru. She previously served as the high school principal of the American International School of Guangzhou, China and the Anglo-American School of Moscow, Russia. Before becoming a principal, she worked as an International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program Coordinator and taught high school English. Starting her career in British Columbia, Canada, she initially worked as an English and social studies teacher as well as an integrated studies program teacher for at-risk students. Throughout her career, she has had an unwavering drive to make high school a place where students want to be.

Theressa was celebrated by her school community and presented a gift by Dr. Kerry Jacobon, superintendent, and Betty Lin, director of arts. (Photo source:  Maria-Fernanda Cruzado)

Darlene L. Huson and Peter T. Lee were selected as the U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Schools’ NAESP National Distinguished Principal award recipients.

Darlene was honored to accept the award, saying, "Receiving this award was both a humbling and special experience. My school community showed so much support." 

When Darlene became principal of The American International School of Lusaka (AISL) six years ago, she set out to shift the school’s culture away from individual classroom “silos' to a fluid and thriving professional support network, paving the way for changes that have positively impacted student achievement and professional collaboration while advancing the school’s mission to support the whole child. AISL now takes a team-based approach to establishing strategic curriculum and learning goals, with small groups of teachers working together to research, problem-solve, and generate proposals for consideration of the whole team. This culture has allowed the school to make significant shifts under Huson’s leadership, including transitioning to a mixed-age, inquiry-based model for early childhood education that better aligns with the school’s constructivist pedagogy. Balancing her trust in her team’s leadership ability with the need for structured pathways of growth, Huson has created new professional development opportunities for teachers as well as teaching assistants, who now play a co-equal role in guiding instruction. Huson has previously served as a teacher and administrator at schools in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Florence, Italy. She holds a Master of Education in elementary education from The College of New Jersey, where she also completed post-graduate study in educational leadership, as well as a Master of Science in early childhood education from Portland State University and a Principal Certificate of Eligibility from the New Jersey Department of Education.

Peter appreciated receiving the award, stating, “I am honored to be recognized by the NAESP and the Office of Overseas Schools at the US Dept. of State. I am happy to represent The American International School of Muscat and the entire NESA [Near East South Asia] region with this award.”

Peter has served as the middle school principal of The American International School of Muscat (TAISM) for 10 years, following six years teaching at the school and 13 years teaching in U.S. public schools. During his tenure, he has cultivated a dynamic culture in which students and teachers alike have robust opportunities to grow and develop their leadership. Lee led the transformation of the school’s weekly advisory period into an everyday advisory program that is designed to meet the unique developmental needs of the school’s sixth through eighth-grade student body by grouping students in “home base” cohorts that supplement traditional academic advising with social-emotional learning. He also pioneered a tiered approach to student government, expanding opportunities beyond a traditional student council to offer differentiated structures for students to gain experience in participatory processes while representing their peers. Lee has taken a similarly innovative approach to building a professional culture of collegiality and trust at TAISM, using a Lab Group structure based on the Adaptive Schools model to position teachers as professional development leaders with their peers. A skilled instructional leader, Lee led the development of a standards-based learning system at the school, leading a comprehensive process with content teams to determine standards with aligned evaluation, data, and reporting practices. Lee holds a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from Gustavus Adolphus College, a Master of Arts in Education from St. Mary’s University, and an Education Specialist degree in Educational Leadership from Capella University.

Courtney Primus is the assistant editor for The International Educator and a theater and speech/communications educator.

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