Spring ISD has announced its 2021 Elementary and Secondary Principals of the Year – Shanna Swearingen, principal of Ponderosa Elementary School, and Kenisha Williams, principal of Twin Creeks Middle School. The recognition is awarded to one primary and one secondary level principal each year, with finalists selected based on campus data and observations, student assessment, and feedback from other district leaders and members of the community.
“We’re very proud of these two amazing principals, both of whom have been setting the standard for strong, compassionate leadership during the pandemic,” said Dr. Lupita Hinojosa, the district’s chief of innovation and equity, who said this year’s contest couldn’t help being impacted by the effects of COVID-19 on schools and area families.
“With so many wonderful principals working in our district, selecting elementary and secondary principals of the year is always difficult,” Hinojosa said. “It’s an extensive process that incorporates quantitative as well as qualitative criteria.”
This year’s contest was unique in part, Hinojosa said, because of the decision by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to suspend annual academic assessment requirements in the spring of 2020 due to the widespread impact of COVID-19 on Texas schools and classrooms. Without STAAR and STAAR End-of-Course student assessment data for last spring, the district incorporated additional historical STAAR results, together with TEA accountability ratings related to school progress and academic growth, plus local assessments administered during the current school year measuring progress at each campus.
Just as important during a school year so heavily affected by the pandemic, Hinojosa said that the district wanted to recognize principals who had consistently gone above and beyond to serve their communities, including their students, staff members and area families.
“I look at Ponderosa as a family,” said Swearingen, saying that, while principals set the tone on their campus, success is a group effort. “A lot of it has to do with putting together a really strong team, working together on building the culture, and then leveraging everything we can to address students’ needs.”
In addition to their schools’ strong showing on beginning-of-year and middle-of-year assessments, Swearingen and Williams were both praised for their visionary leadership and establishment of their neighborhood campuses as hubs serving the community. Hinojosa said that both principals had been tireless throughout the pandemic in working to find needed resources for their families, connecting them to local services, and responding – no matter the hour – to acute needs affecting their students.
“Not only do we provide a place for students to learn, but we provide emotional and social support. We provide a human connection,” Williams said. “During this pandemic there is so much uncertainty, and staying connected and showing that we care is what’s important to our students and families. If our students and families know that we care, the student outcomes will improve, even during a pandemic.”
At Twin Creeks, Williams helped organize a food pantry at the campus, enabling her and her staff to step up after events such as Winter Storm Uri to provide people in the local community with food, water, cleaning supplies and other necessities. At Ponderosa, meanwhile, Swearingen oversaw efforts to keep her school’s home visit program going strong despite the pandemic, working together with teachers, counselors and other staff to ensure families were supported and remained engaged with the school even if students were learning from home. The campus also launched a culture and diversity committee this year to ensure equitable outcomes for all students.
“We’ve really worked hard to create a culture of excellence at Ponderosa, and really making sure that in every decision we make we’re looking at what’s best for our kids,” Swearingen said. “We work very hard to make sure that in everything that we do our students know that they’re valued, that they were created with a purpose, that they’re loved, and that they have a future story that we want to help them to write.”
Both Williams and Swearingen expressed gratitude for the award during the March meeting of the Spring ISD Board of Trustees, when board members recognized them and thanked them for their contribution and commitment to district families. Both principals also took the opportunity to thank district leaders for their support and to express their gratitude for their campus-based teams.
“This recognition is not possible without a phenomenal team,” Williams said. “When I think of my team I think of one of my favorite quotes by Henry Ford, ‘Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.’ To my team at Twin Creeks I say thank you for working together toward a common vision.”
Hinojosa said both Williams and Swearingen were setting the bar high with a combination of unrelenting work ethic and care for the needs of others. She said they were helping see their schools through a difficult time while also laying the groundwork for continuous growth and future success.
“When you think about servant leadership, both of these principals come to mind,” Hinojosa said. “That’s who they are. They’re selfless.”