October 19, 2016
Susquehanna University alumnus Thomas Dodd '92 has been named the 2017 National Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
Dodd was given the honor in a surprise ceremony at Lesher Middle School in the Poudre School District, Fort Collins, Colo.
"It sounds cliché, but the most rewarding part about working in education is the chance to make a difference," Dodd said. "Teachers have a lot of power; they can motivate and inspire."
Dodd grew up in New Paltz, N.Y., in the Hudson Valley. Both of his parents were teachers. After graduating from Susquehanna in 1992 with a degree in history, Dodd went on to Adams State University, where he earned master's degrees in secondary and physical education in 1995. He earned his principal's license from Colorado State University in 1999 and his doctorate from the Pennsylvania State University in 2015.
When Dodd assumed the role of principal at Lesher Middle School in 2005, it was struggling. Its International Baccalaureate in the Middle Years Program (IBMYP), which is meant to prepare students for entry into higher education, had led to a de facto remedial track among non-IBMYP students.
With a focus on schoolwide equity, Dodd expanded the competency-based report cards to the entire student body. He instituted student and staff recognition and promoted student participation in academic contests.
"I believe in excellence and equity, which are not mutually exclusive," Dodd said.
His efforts have increased enrollment at Lesher from 500 to 770 students, making it one of the most competitive schools to get into in Colorado, which is an open-enrollment state.
Dodd's vision is symbolized by an anchor pin that each student and teacher wears, accompanied by the motto "Anchor Down" to highlight the importance of students feeling grounded in the school.
"Most parents, what they really want is to know that someone knows their kid and will advocate for them," he said. "When a teacher cares about a student, supports him or her and is willing to provide critical feedback when necessary, it can make all the difference."
As the National Principal of the Year, Dodd will participate in high-level education policy discussions and will be enrolled in the highly regarded McKinsey Management Program for School Leaders.