Castle Dome principal wins Rodel honor

Rodel Principal Winner

Amy Crawford/Yuma Sun

Castle Dome Middle School Principal Lori Sheffield has been named a Rodel Exemplary Principal for 2016.

“It’s exciting,” she said during an interview with the Yuma Sun. “I’m kind of a little star-struck because I know some of the other people who have been exemplary principals or have been nominated, and I think that’s a wow factor for me.”

Yuma District One Superintendent Darwin Stiffler said, “I am glad that the entire state will know what Castle Dome already knows, Lori Sheffield is an exemplary principal.”

“Principal Sheffield performs heroic unsung work every day,” Stiffler continued. “I can’t imagine a more deserving or appropriate principal for this prestigious award.”

Sheffield, whose education career spans 17 years, is one of eight Rodel Exemplary Principals for 2016 across the state of Arizona.

A New York native, Sheffield has worked as a classroom teacher/counselor for three years; eight years as a counselor; one year as a regional summer school principal; two years as an assistant principal; and five years as a principal. She has degrees in psychology/creative art therapy (dual major), with a concentration in music from Russell Sage College; a Master of Science in rehabilitation counseling/school counseling (dual major) from Syracuse University; and a Master of Arts in educational leadership from St. Lawrence University.

“Rodel Exemplary Principals represent some of the best school leaders that Arizona has to offer,” said Howard Paley, Rodel chief operating officer.

“Exemplary principals mentor Aspiring Principals over a two-year period and participate in Rodel-led seminars that help them develop the strategies and tactics needed to lead an effective school in Arizona, while also providing them with the opportunity to build and maintain a network of similarly qualified leaders that can provide support and guidance throughout their careers,” according to the Rodel Foundation of Arizona web site.

The principals were chosen from schools in “high-need communities,” according to a news release from the Rodel Foundation, and how they demonstrated their abilities to “inspire their staff to contribute to school-wide success and the development of a campus that is high achieving, safe, orderly and welcoming.”

“One of the many reasons Lori is so deserving of this award is her demonstrated ability to mentor aspiring principals,” Stiffler said.

One such person who Sheffield inspired is Woodard Junior High Principal Daniel Acosta, who last year was assistant principal at Castle Dome Middle working under Sheffield.

“Her work ethic inspires and calls for others to give more of themselves for the good of the whole. She supports an environment where people are unafraid to ‘fail forward,’ learn from errors, and improve,” Acosta said in an email interview.

“Students respond to her in a positive way because they know that she truly believes in them as individuals and that her ultimate priority at Castle Dome is the welfare of all that walk through her hallways. … She is committed in developing leaders, within children and adults, that will continue to keep Castle Dome the exceptional place that it is today. All of this carries over to my efforts at Woodard Jr. High School. I share her philosophy of taking into consideration the development of the whole child; emotionally, academically, and socially.”

As a school administrator, Sheffield said she’s been in good company with her peers.

“I know some of the other people that have been nominated are better than I am… they’re outstanding so it’s humbling to be put with them.”

One person whom Sheffield immediately relayed the good news to was one of her teachers who is terminally ill.

“… I did call her and let her know already, because she’s been a huge influence on me. She’s an amazing teacher who’s dying of cancer. She needed to know… Her influence on me in making me just a better person, I think that that’s why this is happening.

“You know you have that one person in life that can … call you out on anything? That can be brutally honest when you need them to be? That’s Judy Ling for me. She is terminal, so I was able to share that with her today and that was fun. I think that’s my bigger celebrations. I was able to share it with Judy before she passed away. That’s exciting.”

“It’s amazing” Sheffield said of being named an Exemplary Principal. “It’s just awesome for my school and all the teachers and all the staff and all the kids and families. They’ve worked really, really hard.”

Sheffield said when she first started working at Castle Dome seven years ago, the school was known locally as “Castle Doom.”

But the turnaround has been fast – and with a plus.

“They’ve just changed so many things for the better and for the positive,” she said. “It’s really cool that the whole school will get some attention for everything that they’ve worked so hard for.”