Minnesota Principals of the Year

2023 High School Principal of the Year

Christina Hester, Roseville Area High School

Christina Hester, principal of Roseville Area High School has been named the 2023 Minnesota High School Principal of the Year. Christina has been the principal of her school for the past six years and has been a school administrator for 19 years.

Over the past six years as head principal, Christina has made a significant impact on her school community. She is a firm believer in recognizing and acknowledging all individuals that walk into her building. Christina’s dedication to her students has been illustrated in her equity-focused changes within the school systems, curriculum and grading practices. As one teacher states, “Ms. Hester centers all we do in the building around equity. Over the past six years I can confidently say that every meeting and professional development day and/or opportunity is rooted and centered around equitable ways of doing, being and knowing.” This sentiment is also reinforced by one building administrator who stated, “She is also a strong facilitator of adult learning with our staff. Simply put, our staff, students and families feel seen and heard by her leadership.” Lastly, and to sum up Christina’s strong, impactful leadership, this student shares, “Ms. Hester helped me to cultivate my voice and fueled my need for education that represents me and my roots.”

2023 Middle Level Principal of the Year

Tom Brenner, Cloquet Middle School

Tom Brenner has been named this year’s recipient of the Minnesota Middle Level Principal of the Year. Tom has been the principal in his building for the past 20 years.

Tom understands the importance of creating a strong relational-centered school, focusing on student safety and well-being. He states, “Our students and staff's social and emotional well-being has always been our highest priority at Cloquet Middle School (CMS).” As a Restorative Practice School, we continually work to improve our practice by implementing the five 'R's of restorative practice and the seven grandfather teachings of the Ojibwe culture (Humility - Dbaadendiziwin, Bravery - Aakwa'ode'ewin, Honesty - Gwekwaadziwin, Wisdom - Nbwaakaawin, Truth - Debwewin, Respect - Mnaadendimowin, Love - Zaagidwin).” Furthermore, Tom has made a concerted effort to lead through an equitable lens. One parent shared, “As a school leader, Mr. Brenner has done many things to promote equity for students and families at CMS. The signage on the different walls recognizes and acknowledges the native community. The range of school resources and staff available to support students and families reflects Mr. Brenner's understanding and efforts to address systemic inequities in his building.” Tom’s staff appreciates his willingness to challenge all learners within the building. One teacher shared, “Tom has been a fierce advocate for de-tracking. He worked alongside teacher teams to design equitable, heterogeneous classes where all kids can achieve rigorous grade-level expectations.”

2022-2023 Assistant Principal of the Year

Tyler Shepard, Wayzata High School

Tyler Shepard, associate principal at Wayzata High School, has been named this year’s recipient of the Minnesota Assistant Principal of the Year Award. Tyler has been an associate principal in his current school for the past six years; and, he has been a school administrator for seven years.

Tyler comes with high praise from his school community. A teacher in his building shares that Tyler is a positive and innovative problem-solver who looks at issues with a fresh perspective, stating, “His answer to new ideas is, “Let’s do it!” Where most people see roadblocks, he sees opportunities.” The teacher goes on to say that “Tyler’s willingness to think differently and make things happen inspires me to continually evolve and grow my own personal practice.” Scott Gengler, principal, shares Tyler's curious nature and invites shared leadership among staff. As a result, Tyler has been instrumental in supporting student-centered systems that empower our entire school community.” Tyler is truly making an impact with the school community at Wayzata High School. One parent stated it best, “Tyler engages with all students, all levels, all backgrounds and interests, and he does so to ensure that all students feel welcomed, challenged, respected and comfortable within the learning community.”

2022 High School Principal of the Year

Nathaniel “Natty” Messick, Fertile-Beltrami High School

Nathaniel “Natty” Messick, principal of Fertile-Beltrami Schools for being named the 2022 Minnesota High School Principal of the Year. Natty has been the principal of his school for the past eight years.

Over those years, Natty has instilled the value of the “Falcon Way” – focusing on a culture of responsibility, respectfulness and determination. As one student states, “Our school has an amazing sense of unity that doesn’t happen in other places. There is so much support for each and every student. Our teachers and administration always greet everyone with a smile and make sure that each student knows that they are cared for.” Furthermore, according to an administrator in the district, Natty creates a strong culture, “Mr. Messick is very approachable, people-person, student-oriented principal who works to establish one-on-one relationships with all participants in our school system. Students, staff and community members feel connected and supported by our principal – which, in turn, creates trust and a sense of belonging.”

2022 Middle Level Principal of the Year

Michael O’Neil, Pequot Lakes Middle School

Michael O’Neil has been named this year’s recipient of the Minnesota Middle Level Principal of the Year. Mike has been an administrator for eight years, the past seven years as the principal at Pequot Lakes Middle School.

Mike understands the importance of individualized and high-quality education offerings for his students. He states, “As a campus community, we have worked to stay the course in providing each child with their version of “what they need” to be successful. This includes a strategic PLC devoted to Social Emotional Learning and the support of some of our most challenging students on campus.” As stated from a teacher under Mike’s leadership, “Mike has been courageously steadfast in his messaging and in his decisions related to equity. His advocacy for equity is rooted in his desire to hear from people whose perspectives have been shaped by experiences different than his own. He is a humble learner in this regard, modeling curiosity and respect in his personal and professional equity work.

2021-2022 Assistant Principal of the Year

Nick Bakke, Mora High School

Nick Bakke, Assistant Principal at Mora High School, has been named this year’s recipient of the Minnesota Assistant Principal of the Year Award, and is now eligible to be considered for the National Assistant Principal of the Year honors. Nick has been an administrator for the past nine years at Mora High School.

Nick comes with high praise from staff and community members. A special education teacher shares that Nick comes with many strengths, including listening to the concerns of others as well as being able to soothe stressful situations. Both powerful tools when working with students and parents. Furthermore, Nick’s principal notes his dedication to continually improve the culture of Mora High School. Although he faces many challenges and difficult conversations with students, he never shies away. His ultimate goal when working with students is not to discipline, but to change behavior. One community member expressed that Nick treats all students, regardless of age, gender, race or GPA with respect. He is always thinking of ways to include kids in different levels of activities and training to ensure he finds ways for them to fit in. Congratulations Nick! Thank you for your strong leadership and dedication to your students, staff and community.