BONNER — Each year, the National Distinguished Principal Program selects one principal from each state to set standards in education and build on the foundation of learning.
Representing the state of Montana is principal Shelley Andres from Bonner School District.
According to students and staff at Bonner School, a lesson in leadership can be seen in the daily actions of their principal.
“I think a good leader is somebody who leads by example, someone we can feel comfortable talking to,” said second-grade teacher Tricia Burgess.
“They’ll stand up and do the right thing,” echoed fifth-grade student Finley Hiller-Claridge.
Literacy coach Jenae Bagby says a leader is someone who’s relatable.
Meanwhile, second-grade student Remy Messer told MTN News that it’s simple, leaders have grit.
Students and staff at Bonner School District know what leadership is because they see it every day in their principal.
Now, the rest of the country’s educators will see Andres’s leadership as she represents Montana in the National Distinguished Principal Program.
Walking into a surprise convocation and a gymnasium full of students and colleagues eager to celebrate her achievement, Andres couldn’t believe the support that followed her announcement Tuesday afternoon.
“It was amazing, just uplifting and overwhelming and humbling and kind and exciting, all at once,” said Andres.
Alongside principals from across the US, Andres will discuss funding, she’ll sit on panels, advocate for educators, and mentor others in her field. She’ll even meet the President of the United States.
Becoming a leader of this caliber isn’t a sum of all the accolades, but maybe a sum of all the little moments.
“She comes to the lunchroom and says ‘hi’ to us,” explained Remy.
“She always has a smile on her face when she's walking down the halls,” said Finley.
It’s an example she sets on day one and upholds throughout the year.
“Every year on the first day of school, she gives an apple and a handwritten note to every person in the building,” said Bagby.
This leadership proved pivotal when Bonner’s morale was at its lowest.
“She was a cheerleader when we were working from home, you know, and kind of organized ways to keep us all afloat,” Burgess told MTN News.
According to Andres, doing all the little things is easy when she puts herself in the shoes of those she’s leading.
“I would never ask anybody to do anything I'm not willing to do,” explained Andres, “Whether that's shoveling the walkway, helping the cafeteria, or doing recess duty.”
When she takes her seat on the National Distinguished Principals platform, Andres will share more than ideas on education, she’ll bring a Montana state of mind to the nationwide front.
“Connections matter, relationships matter, and you can do anything if you have that relationship, and you can get staff and kids and parents to do anything for you if they know you care,” said Andres.