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Joan Franks Selected 2011 National Distinguished Principal
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Joan Franks, 2011 Minnesota National Distinguished Principal

Joan Franks, principal of Armatage Montessori School in the Minneapolis Public Schools, and a member of the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association (MESPA), is Minnesota’s 2011 National Distinguished Principal (NDP).  The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and MESPA present the prestigious award, which has corporate sponsorship from VALIC.

The NDP program was established in 1984 to honor exemplary elementary and middle school principals who set the pace, character, and quality of education children receive during their early school years. The program highlights the fundamental importance of the school principal in achieving educational excellence for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students and reinforces their continued leadership in helping children develop a lifelong love of learning. One NDP principal is chosen annually from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“Making sure that all kids learn, grow, and achieve is core to my mission as a building principal,” said Franks. “At Armatage, the combination of high standards for all, additional support for struggling students, and the Montessori method allow us to help students develop to their fullest potential.”

“MESPA is honored to be represented by Joan Franks,” said P. Fred Storti, MESPA executive director. “She actively serves her principal peers and is steeped in the technology, pedagogy, and dynamics of today’s instructional leader. She truly is a distinguished educator.”

“I have known Ms. Joan Franks as a colleague since 1987, when she served as the Curriculum Coordinator at Hans Christian Andersen School in south Minneapolis,” said Aura Wharton-Beck, principal, Jenny Lind Elementary School, Minneapolis. “It was evident from my first encounter with her that Joan possessed the skills, tenacity and leadership skill to transform the lives of children. Joan’s keen sense of commitment to equity, diversity, and high standards for all students was to become the hallmark of her professional reputation and practice.”

“Creating a climate for effective learning is at the heart of Armatage’s mission to ‘create a learning environment that fosters academic achievement, a love of learning, and respect for self, others, and our world,’”  Franks stated.  “Students, staff, and visitors experience that climate from the moment they walk through the door. We receive frequent feedback from guests and community members who way they sense a magical feeling focused on student achievement the moment they step into the building. I believe this is directly related to shared values with our parent community regarding achievement, responsibility and mutual respect for why our school exists.”

“Most importantly, our mission is present in the way teachers teach and interact with the children," Franks continued. “To be successful, we must ‘Walk the talk.’ Thus my staff is empowered to support and coach each other. I track their development just as we track kids’ development. If they don’t live and breathe our mission, they won’t succeed in creating it in their students.”

“I have had the privilege of working for Joan Franks for over 12 years,” said Margo Borth, Armatage Kindergarten teacher, “and it is without hesitation that I say you will not find a more dedicated and skilled principal. “Joan sets the bar high as an educational leader in every sense of the word.”

Speaking to her three most significant accomplishments as a principal, Franks said:

  • “During the 2009-2010 school year, the Minneapolis School Board voted to close the community program at Armatage which impacted 50% of the students, staff, and families. They were realigned to another facility in order to make room for the increasing number of families requesting the Montessori program also housed as Armatage. Through the marketing and recruiting strategies implemented by our transition team and actively engaging the community, we were able to more than double the enrollment of the Montessori school in less than one year.”
  • “Through the collaborative efforts of parents, staff, and community, I assisted in focusing our school on achievement goals -- contributing toward making Armatage a productive and successful Minneapolis school. We made AYP in all three academic areas tested during the 2009-2010 school year, which is testimony to the high expectations and standards that we share.”
  • “Having had the opportunity to serve on numerous district and state committees during the past 30 years, I have had to balance management and leadership roles while staying focused on my position as the instructional leader at Armatage School. Along with my principal colleagues, I have been fortunate to be able to help influence decisions impacting our schools while concurrently building bridges through negotiations, labor relations, and budgeting.”

Frank’s professional awards include: National Institute for School Leadership (Minnesota Principals’ Academy), 2009-2010; Harvard PELP participant (Minneapolis Public Schools), 2009; MN National Distinguished Principal finalist (MESPA), 2008; Division Leadership Achievement Award (MESPA), 2008.

Frank’s professional activities include: Minneapolis Principals’ Forum, secretary (2009-present), president (2006-2008), Negotiations Committee (1999-present); MESPA, Negotiations Committee Minneapolis representative (2008-present), Membership Committee statewide chair (2003-2005), EPAC statewide chair (1997-1998), EPAC Minneapolis representative  (1991-1996); Minneapolis Public Elementary School Principals Association, treasurer (2006-2007), president (2005-2006), president-elect (2004-2005), treasurer (1998-2004); Lakeville Public Schools, Diversity Committee, (1996-1997).

A short list of Frank’s community contributions include: Burnsville Squirt A Hockey Team, assistant manager (2010-present); Burnsville High School Boys Hockey Team, treasurer (2005-2007); Augsburg College, student teacher presenter (2003-2007); St. Thomas College, assistant ad hoc professor (1998-2000); Vista View Elementary, PTA treasurer (1997); Cub Scouts, pack leader (1990-1992).

Franks has been a vital presence in the Minnesota principalship for 21 years: principal, Armatage Community & Montessori School in Minneapolis, since 1998; principal, Armatage Community & Montessori and Kenny Community Schools, 2003-2006; principal, Orchard Lake Elementary in Lakeville, 1995-1998; principal, Downtown Open/Mill City Montessori/Martin Luther King Schools in Minneapolis, 1993-1995; assistant principal, Northstar Community Schools in Minneapolis, 1991-1993; and assistant principal intern, Marcy Open & Tuttle Contemporary School in Minneapolis, 1990-1991.

She held several education positions at Andersen Contemporary School in Minneapolis, prior to entering the principalship: curriculum coordinator, 1986-1990; language arts resource, 1985-1986; classroom teacher, 1982-1985. Franks started her education career as a classroom teacher at Lyndale Continuous Progress School in Minneapolis, 1981-1982.

Franks received her superintendent licensure, sixth year administrative licensure, and Master of Science from Minnesota State University. She received her Bachelor of Science from Miami University, Oxford, OH, and was a member of the Delta Gamma Sorority.

The other MESPA finalists for this honor were Michelle Krell, principal at Kasson-Mantorville Elementary School, Kasson-Mantorville Public Schools, and Debra Sauter, principal at Laura MacArthur Elementary School in Duluth, Duluth Public Schools.




Image Gallery: National Distinguished Principal Recognition in Washington, D.C.
October 20-21, 2011
NAESP President Rob Monson speaking at the 2011 NDP Awards Banquet, Capital Hilton Hotel, Washington, D.C. (October 21, 2011) The Honorable Arne Duncan, Secretary, The United States Department of Education, speaking at the 2011 NDP Awards Banquet, Capital Hilton Hotel, Washington, D.C. (October 21, 2011) MN 2011 National Distinguished Principal Joan Steffes-Franks ringing the bell of education, in concert with the other 2011 NDPs. See all 8 images.


Image Gallery: MESPA at the 2011 NDP Celebration in Washington D.C.
October 20-21, 2011 Photos taken by Lifetouch.
Sixty-one outstanding elementary and middle school principals from across the nation and abroad were named 2011 National Distinguished Principals (NDP) by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). In their number was MN NDP Joan Steffes Franks (principal, Minneapolis). They were honored Oct. 21 at an awards banquet at the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., as part of a two-day program, which for more than 20 years has been generously funded by VALIC. The principals... NDPs enroute to the State Department. Minnesota's NDP Joan Steffes Franks, second row on the left, by the window. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan provided congratulatory remarks at a formal dinner. See all 24 images.




“Making sure that all kids learn, grow, and achieve is core to my mission as a building principal,” said Joan Franks. “At Armatage, the combination of high standards for all, additional support for struggling students, and the Montessori method allow us to help students develop to their fullest potential.”


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Joan Steffes-Franks ringing the bell of education, along with all 2011 National Distinguished Principals -- at the October 2011 NDP celebration in Washington, D.C.

To view more photos from the celebration, scroll down.


Honored in Washington, D.C.
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Sixty-two outstanding elementary and middle school principals from schools across the nation and abroad have been named as 2011 National Distinguished Principals (NDP) by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) -- including Minnesota 2011 NDP Joan Steffes-Franks! The principals were honored Oct. 21, 2011 at an awards banquet at the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., as part of a two-day program.

A list of the 2011 NDPs -- including Minnesota's Joan Steffes-Franks -- and their biographical information is available on the NAESP site.