Cabeen nominated for top principal honor

Published 7:01 am Sunday, March 5, 2017

Jessica Cabeen, principal of Woodson Kindergarten Center in Austin Public Schools, and a member of the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association (MESPA), is one of three finalists for Minnesota 2017 National Distinguished Principal.

This marks the 34th year MESPA and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) have presented the prestigious award.

“It’s very humbling to be nominated; to be one of the final three is really a ‘pinch me’ moment,” Cabeen said. “It really is such an honor to be recognized with this group of excellent educators.”



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If named the top principal, Cabeen will represent Minnesota at a recognition ceremony to be held in Washington D.C. later this year.

“At the helm of every successful school is a successful principal,” said Gail Connelly, NAESP executive director. “Our National Distinguished Principals program provides us with an opportunity to recognize the outstanding leadership of these principals and their commitment to creating successful learning communities. Because of them, students thrive academically, teachers grow professionally, and communities are strengthened.”

Cabeen was nominated by Brad Gustafson, principal of Greenwood Elementary in Wayzata.

In his letter of recommendation, he wrote, “She is a true unsung hero and would represent MESPA principals as National Distinguished Principal in an exemplary manner … Jessica understands the unique needs of the whole child, and especially our youngest learners, like none other. She’s worked tirelessly to contribute her leadership at the state level in both formal and informal ways. She’s championed change for early childhood education through MESPA. She tries to visit every classroom every day, and maintains the same level of approachability with colleagues. She has brought a genuine passion for learning as well as permission to innovate her school and it’s been positively infectious.”

The National Distinguished Principals program was established in 1984 to recognize elementary and middle level principals who set high standards for instruction, student achievement, character, and climate for the students, families, and staffs in their learning communities. The program is based on three fundamental ideas of establishing lifelong learners, providing scope and quality of educational experiences, and dedication and enthusiasm for children’s early educational experiences.

The program recognizes outstanding leadership. Among the criteria are contributions to education and the community, leadership of a school that meets both academic and social needs of all students, leadership of a school that has firm ties to both parents and the community; and leadership of a school clearly committed to excellence.

Public school elementary and middle-level principals are nominated by peers in their state, and final selections are made by committees appointed by each of NAESP’s state affiliate offices.

All nominated principals were reviewed by a statewide selection committee, including MESPA’s 12 division presidents; Gustafson, 2016 National Distinguished Principal; and selection committee chair, Tim Bell.

On May 5, Cabeen and the other two finalists will be interviewed and the selection committee will determine the 2017 Minnesota National Distinguished Principal.

In addition to Cabeen, the finalists for the honor are Lisa Carlson, principal of Woodland Elementary in Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Public School District, and Nancy Antoine, principal of Bridgewater Elementary in Northfield Public Schools.

Cabeen said the nomination process involved collecting recommendations and data from parents, staff and fellow educators, “an interesting process,” she said.

But when all is said and done, Cabeen said, “I’ve already won.”

“After everything is over, I get to go back to Woodson,” she said. “That’s a win.”