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MESPA Division Leadership Award

The Division Leadership Award is an annual recognition made by each of the 12 MESPA Divisions and the Retired Principals of MESPA (RPM). The award expresses appreciation to the many outstanding individuals in the principalship who have contributed generously to improving education, their communities, and their profession. They serve as role models and sources of inspiration to other principals and educators.

Any MESPA member may nominate a peer for consideration; Division Presidents and Presidents-Elect then facilitate the selection process within each division. Nominations are due by Friday, October 4, 2024. If you have any questions about the Division Leadership Award, please contact mespa@mespa.net


Principal Jennifer Olson, Central Division Leadership Award Winner

“When you have an awesome team of colleagues working hand in hand and supporting one another, it's easy to step up, lean in, and enjoy giving back to our division and the greater MESPA organization. There are so many deserving individuals, and being honored with the Division Leadership Award for Central Division is humbling.  I am grateful for the recognition, and look forward to continuing my leadership through service with and for others.”

-Jennifer Olson

Principal Maura Weyandt, East Suburban Division Leadership Award Winner

 “The best part of being a principal is the people you get to share experiences with. That’s students, educators, families and colleagues. I am fortunate to work and learn with incredible leaders in our division. This award is an honor and I would like to thank my colleagues for their collaboration and dedication to education.”

-Maura Weyandt

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Principal Vicki Turner, Minneapolis Division Leadership Award Winner

Being a principal is the most rewarding job I have ever had. I take pride in creating collaborative, safe and a healthy learning environment for students, staff and community, mentoring teachers and creating programs that improve student outcomes. Although serving in this role has its challenges,  I could not do this work without the support and collaboration of my colleagues including the professional development opportunities that being a member of MESPA provides. I am honored that my colleagues chose me for the Minneapolis Division Leadership Award.”

-Vicki Turner

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Principal Jack Shields, North Suburban Division Leadership Award Winner

 “It is an honor to serve students, families, and school staff as principal, and to be recognized by MESPA as a Division Leader for the North Suburban Region brings me great joy. The work MESPA does has helped me to grow in the profession as well as meet great people who share a common vision of serving students.”

-Jack Shields

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Assistant Principal Clayton Lindner, Northeast Division Leadership Award Winner

Clayton is very deserving of this award as he has been a constant in our division. He initiates virtual and in-person meetings to keep us connected to one another and growing as professionals!  He does an excellent job engaging colleagues, soliciting ideas and feedback, and planning for our evolving professional needs in a very geographically large division!  I have appreciated his positive contributions to the NE division and MESPA as a whole!”

-Principal Robbi Mandati, Lindner's Colleague

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Principal Kelsey Johnson, Northern Division Leadership Award Winner

I am truly honored to represent the northern regional elementary principals of Minnesota. It has always been my passion to serve students. Doing so, I have had the pleasure of working with amazing educators, community members, and local leaders in the northern region. I have always sincerely believed in the phrase ‘it takes a village.’ That comes with acknowledging that my experiences and accomplishments thus far have not been mine alone, but a shared effort. My greatest aspiration is that I continue to inspire and support my village as much as they do me.”

-Kelsey Johnson

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Principal Jim Hoogheem, Retired Principals of MESPA Leadership Award Winner

It’s an honor to receive this award.  MESPA was always important to me when working, and now, when retired RPM has kept me in contact with MESPA, colleagues, and continued professional growth.”

-Jim Hoogheem

Principal Nick Jurrens, Southeast Division Leadership Award Winner

 “I'm so grateful to learn from and be supported by MESPA Leadership and colleagues the past eight years.  A special thank you goes out to: My SE MESPA colleagues for their ongoing support and collaboration; Jon Millerhagen for his friendship and support, especially in my early years; Michelle Krell, who was one of my mentor principals while I was a teacher; my family for supporting the busy life of a principal; and our Jefferson Elementary Team and my Faribault Public Schools leadership colleagues who challenge me daily.  This award is a tribute to all those who have and continue to support me in my leadership journey.”

-Nick Jurrens

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Principal Christine Evans, South Suburban Division Leadership Award Winner

 “Receiving the Division Leadership Award from MESPA is such a compliment from the incredible community I've been lucky enough to serve this year. It's more than just an award; it's a testament to the amazing friendships, connections across Minnesota, and the growth we've all experienced together. Being part of MESPA has been an integral part of my life as a principal, and leading our South Suburban division has been an absolute honor. As elementary principals, we have the best job in the world! This award symbolizes the collective dedication of all those who've supported our vision as school leaders in Minnesota.”

-Christine Evans

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Principal Doreen Oelke, Southwest Division Leadership Award Winner

I am truly humbled and honored to receive this award. I have always believed that one is only as strong as those that surround them. In my career I have been so fortunate to work with some of the best of the best in the field of education. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as a school leader and see first hand the amazing work that is being done within our schools.”

-Doreen Oelke

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Principal Sarah Lightner, Saint Paul Division Leadership Award Winner

“Principal Sarah Lightner is very deserving of this award because of her passion for education, and for making a positive difference in the lives of the students and families that she serves. Her passion transcends her duties to her school and touches on her commitment to supporting her colleagues. As our Division's President-Elect, she inspires and motivates our team, she is a good listener and problem-solver, as well as someone who is adept at identifying and addressing challenges in a fair and conscientious manner. She is without a doubt an embodiment of the qualities of outstanding leadership that awards like this one celebrate.”

-Principal Lawson, Lightner's Colleague

Principal Chris Ellingson, Western Division Leadership Award Winner

Mr. Ellingson has been a long-serving principal at Hawley Elementary. During this time he has helped lead his school in high academic achievement on state-wide and school-wide assessments. His influence has spread beyond his school and impacted schools across the Western Minnesota Elementary Principal Division through his leadership at the committee level, service as Division President, and willingness to share best practices established at Hawley Elementary. Mr. Ellingson has also advocated for students at a state-wide level through attendance and regular participation in legislative days hosted at the Minnesota State Capitol representing our region and schools honorably.”

-Principal Craig Bahr, Ellington's Colleague

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Principal Alice Smith Elementary, West Suburban Division Leadership Award Winner

“I’m honored to receive this leadership award and represent our West Suburban division and Hopkins Public Schools. I want to also recognize that it takes a team. At Alice Smith Elementary, I’m humbled to work alongside caring educators that help our scholars grow their hearts and minds each and everyday. A phenomenal office team that bridges our school and home and makes every family feel seen and heard. An amazing custodial and nutrition team that provides our school family with a safe place to call home and nutritious meals to fill our tummies and hearts. And finally, our paraprofessional superstars that provide our scholars with the support they need to succeed. Being part of the Alice Smith family has been the highlight of my career and I’m excited to continue to transform the educational experience so that each scholar has the skills and tools they need to be the drivers of their own future!”

-Eduardo Navidad

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