News-AZ Republic

7 Maricopa, Pinal educators named Rodel Exemplary Principal

Arizona Republic – January 21, 2012

Seven principals in Maricopa and Pinal counties and 10 statewide were named Rodel Exemplary Principal.

The Scottsdale-based Rodel Foundation of Arizona annually selects outstanding principals from around Arizona to mentor those aspiring to become principals.

Each winning principal receives $2,500 and agrees to mentor three aspiring principals over two years.

The Rodel Foundation provided insights from each of the Valley’s winning principals.


Chad Caudle, 2012 Rodel Exemplary PrincipalChad Caudle is principal at Hohokam Traditional School in the Scottsdale Unified School District.

He spent six years as a teacher before moving into administration, working three years as an assistant principal and five years as an elementary school principal.

Caudle said he is most proud of the perseverance of staff, students and families as they continue to raise the bar. “Many changes have occurred over the past few years and our school community has embraced the challenges with a united approach, positive attitude and desire to achieve higher each year,” he said.

He earned his bachelors degree from the University of Wyoming and a masters in administration and supervision from University of Phoenix.

On being inspired to lead:“My inspiration to become a principal was the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of so many. I have the privilege to wake up each day knowing that my actions and decisions may somehow make a permanent imprint on a child’s future. That is a great responsibility, and one that I do not take lightly.”

A tip for new principals: “It is all about relationships. The relationships you build with students, staff and the community will be a critical factor in your school’s overall success. Communities want school leaders who can easily communicate their core values and are willing to listen and collaborate with stakeholders. Having strong relationships will make this easier and more productive.”

On setting high expectations: “My personal actions are the most powerful way to convey high expectations. I do my best to model these expectations on a daily basis. I also believe in communicating a clear and consistent message, with the understanding that we all must be held accountable.”

A tip for parents: “My tip would be to communicate and model that education is a priority in your household. Once this has been established, family decisions and activities will become much easier to agree upon. It will drive dinner time conversations, place an importance on attendance and punctuality and will assist time management decisions for school and outside activities. To get the most out of this advice, you must also be a role model. Next time your child has 30 minutes of silent reading for homework, grab a book and join them.”


Darlene Johnson, 2012 Rodel Exemplary PrincipalDarlene J. Johnson is principal at Holmes Elementary School in the Mesa Public Schools.

She has spent 28 years in education, including nine years teaching special education, six years teaching grades five and six, more than one year as an assistant middle school principal and 12 years as an elementary school principal.

Johnson said she is most proud of The Holmes Roadrunner students. “The parents of our community entrust us with their most treasured children,” she said.

Johnson earned a bachelors degree in physical education and a masters in special education from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

On being inspired to lead: “Colleagues inspired me to become a principal and passion drove me to achieve this goal. I have worked with outstanding educators who guided me in various leadership experiences. Their encouragement and support enlightened me about the potential I possessed as an instructional leader. As I assumed leadership positions, my passion in working with students and for students drove me to become a principal. Being principal of a school is an enormous responsibility with the greatest rewards, on a daily basis.”

A tip for new principals: “Be learners. They will be asked questions and be put in situations that they do not have answers to. They need to know it is ok to take time to process and seek advice. It is their job to learn and seek those answers, but it is ok not to have an immediate response. To be thoughtful and to seek information is better than an immediate answer. Principals need to evaluate their decisions based on what is best for the students.”

On setting high expectations: “First, you must set high expectations as the instructional leader. I believe in high achievement and guide that conviction in my daily work through modeling and communicating. I work collaboratively with staff to create goals that set high learning targets for our students. Students see and hear these goals set for grade-level teams and for our school. Students have ownership in academic success as they set goals and monitor their own progress. Academic success and doing your personal best is a daily message I share on morning TV announcements. Our academic goals are shared with all stakeholders.”

Alexis Wilson, 2012 Rodel Exemplary PrincipalAlexis Wilson is a principal at Griffith Elementary School in the Balsz Elementary School District.

She taught elementary school for eight years, spent two years as an assistant principal and three years as elementary school principal.

Wilson is most proud of collaboration in her school. “We moved from a culture of isolation to one of collaboration, with teachers becoming leaders and innovators rather than stand-alone operators.”

She earned a bachelors degree in psychology from Arizona State University and a masters in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University.

On being inspired to lead: “I still love that great moment I experienced as a teacher, “when the light bulb goes off,” when students show me their work, share their most recently read book or tell me about their excellent test scores. As a principal, I’m inspired and motivated to ensure that ALL students in our school have a chance at light bulbs illuminating. I’m striving for a teaching community that opens up the space for this to happen in every classroom, everyday.”

On learning from a mentor: “My former principal and mentor, Mary Ruddy, gave me one piece of advice I’ll never forget. She said, “choose your battles.” Some things are far more important than others, so be wise about which hills you’re willing to die on and which hills just aren’t worth climbing.”

On setting high expectations: “Every member of our team – from the librarian to the teacher to the administrative assistant – believes that our students can and will succeed. This staff wants more for our students. Students also want more for themselves. It’s in our day-to-day discussions with the students – be they struggling or achieving. It’s in our core values, posted on the weekly schedule and in every classroom. We talk about it during staff and grade-level meetings. We communicate solutions, not excuses.”

A tip for parents: “Get involved. You care about your child. We do, too. We are all (parent, families, teachers, staff) in this together for the children. Talk with teachers, attend school events and find out how you can help your child get the most out of his/her school experience.”


Becky Henderson, 2012 Rodel Exemplary PrincipalBecky Henderson is principal at Harris Elementary School in the Gilbert Unified School District.

She spent eight years as a teacher, one year as dean of students and seven years as an elementary school principal.

Henderson said high expectations and accountability for all is a must.

“As the administrator it is my role to assist in the data analysis and then support the instruction by providing whatever is necessary. We expect success,” she said.

Henderson earned a bachelors in elementary education from Arizona State University and a masters in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University.

A tip for parents: “One tip that I can give parents to help their children be successful in school is to set goals early regarding the expectation to attend a college or university. Elementary school is not too early to start discussing the expectation of higher education. Pick a university and visit the campus – even if you never attended college yourself. Discover the school together! Ask about the process of getting accepted into the college or university so that you can start setting goals early.”

On being inspired to lead: “As a teacher I had the opportunity to build relationships with 30 students a year and watch them grow and succeed. I wanted to make a greater impact. As a principal I am able to assist all of the teachers at Harris and build relationships with more than 500 students and their families. There is no greater reward than watching a timid child enter kindergarten and seeing him or her grow into a smart, confident and successful adolescent.”

A tip for new principals: “Surround yourself with great people. It is your staff that will make an ordinary school into an extraordinary school. Hire people who are passionate, caring and intelligent, and who have high expectations for their students and their colleagues.”

On learning from a mentor: “One lesson I learned from a mentor is to never forget why you chose to be in education. On those particularly rough days, go spend time with the kindergartners or first-graders. You will quickly feel like a rock star, because every one of them will want to give you a hug or tell you a story! Looking in the eyes of a child will remind you what truly matters in life. ”


Jennifer Murrieta, 2012 Rodel Exemplary PrincipalJennifer Murrieta is principal at Desert Willow Elementary School in the Casa Grande Elementary School District.

She taught four years, spent five years as an assistant principal and six years as an elementary school principal.

Murrieta praised the school for having a culture of high expectations, a focus on continuous improvement and a welcoming atmosphere. “Not only do we have dedicated, hard-working staff members and students, we also have a community that supports our efforts,” she said.

She earned a bachelors degree from Augustana College and a masters in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University.

On being inspired to lead: “I grew up with a dream of becoming a teacher and was very excited to get my career started in Arizona. When I moved here from South Dakota to begin teaching in a small rural school, I never would have imagined that I would become a principal. I truly loved working with children in the classroom and had not planned to pursue the principalship. I am very grateful to the administrators who saw the leadership qualities within me and encouraged me to set my own goals in the area of educational leadership.”

On learning from a mentor: “My mentor taught me to stay positive. There are many situations we face in education that can easily bring us down – student lives outside of school, budget cuts and frozen salaries. We cannot change each situation, but we can choose to take what we have and make the best of it. We must find ways to keep that positive energy flowing throughout our schools for that is what separates the good from the great.”

A tip for parents: “I encourage parents to build an open line of communication with their child’s teacher and ask questions. When we work together we greatly increase the likelihood of a child’s success. We all have a common vision centered on student success. By working together as a team, we can help children to achieve their full potential. Staying in touch with teachers and regularly checking in to see how one’s child is progressing are essential parenting practices.”


Christine Hollingsworth, 2012 Rodel Exemplary PrincipalChristine Hollingsworth is principal at Acacia Elementary School in the Washington Elementary School District.

The 26-year educator spent 13 years as an elementary and special education teacher, two years as a dean of students, three years as an assistant principal and eight years as an elementary school principal.

She praised Acacia Elementary in Phoenix as a neighborhood school. “We are proud of growing from a school that was in danger of being labeled underperforming in 2001 to achieving highly performing status for the first time in 2009.”

The state Department of Education gave the school an “A” rating this year.

Hollingsworth earned a bachelors degree in elementary and special education from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and a masters in educational administration from Northern Arizona University.

A tip for parents: “Parents need to be involved in every aspect of their child’s education. Being visible, asking questions and supporting learning at home will lead to success.”

On making data-driven decisions: “We use data each and every day to guide our instruction. Teachers meet weekly as a professional learning community to discuss the latest data. They not only examine state and district results, but also teacher developed formative tests that are designed and given every four weeks. We maintain an extensive data room in which scores for each student are displayed on data cards for reading and math.”

A tip for new principals: “Stay focused while getting to know all of your families. Building a successful school takes time. Stay positive and see every day as a stepping stone to reaching your goal. Stay visual in all aspects of your school, be right there and involved in everything, and let all members of your school community know you genuinely care about the success of all. Most importantly, never lose sight of your vision.”

On being inspired to lead: “Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with several effective principals. One of them encouraged me to take my ideas for the classroom and consider the role of principal. That, coupled with inspiration provided by my hardworking parents, taught me the meaning of perseverance in my life and inspired me to go out and not only achieve success in our schools, but be a voice for all of the wonderful things that we are doing in education.”


Carrie Prielipp, 2012 Rodel Exemplary PrincipalCarrie Prielipp is principal at Sunset Ridge Elementary School Pendergast Elementary School District.

She spent seven years as a teacher, one year as a district professional development consultant, four years as an assistant principal and five years as an elementary school principal.

Prielipp said she is proud of the kid-focused culture at the Glendale school. “Even through difficult days and unexpected circumstances, our school consistently remains child centered and focused on our vision.”

She earned a bachelors degree in liberal studies from California State University, Long Beach; and a masters in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University.

On being inspired to lead: “Above any role in education, the classroom teacher has the greatest and most profound impact on the students we serve. I absolutely loved being a classroom teacher and never took for granted the awesome responsibility of this role. Having the opportunity to support, inspire and influence teachers to become the best they can be for our students is ultimately what brought me to the principalship. I still consider myself a teacher, one who is lucky enough to have the opportunity to impact over 600 students a day.”

A tip for new principals: “Enjoy the journey and always remember the true meaning of our work. In all the important conversations about school improvement, assessment and accountability, don’t ever allow yourself to forget that each child who walks into our building has an individual story and carries unique needs. Continually remind yourself and others that while numbers do have meaning and should certainly guide direction, it is the hearts and minds of our students that should remain at the center of our work. Recognize and appreciate that you have been provided a powerful and meaningful opportunity to influence and impact many.”