Chapin High School’s principal, Dr. Akil Ross, has a mantra for the school, “We are a thousand passions with one heartbeat." He aims to foster an environment where students can be challenged, while pursuing their own interests.
In a surprise assembly in October, Dr. Ross was named the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) 2018 National Principal of the Year.
“Dr. Ross is an exemplary leader who challenges both his students and staff to achieve at the highest level, stated South Carolina State Superintendent Molly Spearman. “I congratulate Dr. Ross on being named the 2018 National Principal of the Year and look forward to his continued dedicated service to the students of South Carolina.”
Under Ross’ leadership, Chapin High School was recognized as a South Carolina Palmetto's Finest Award recipient in 2015. He also challenged his faculty to aim for a 100 percent graduation rate. That challenge sparked the analysis of trend data to identify students most at risk of dropping out, then soliciting funding for a “school after school” to extend instructional services for those students. Chapin’s graduation rate went from 82 percent to exceeding 96 percent, with proficiency rates continuing to climb, including a 16-point spike in math proficiency among black students.
Members of the selection panel were impressed that Dr. Ross embraces the principal’s primary role as, in his words, “the number-one driver for institutional change,” who consistently builds a culture that promotes social justice while preparing students to lead productive lives.
“It did not take long to recognize that Dr. Ross is an agent of infectious change,” said Susanne Thompson, Vice President for Professional Development at Discovery Education and a member of the selection panel. “He focuses first on helping people understand and value their purpose. Then, by binding their purposes, Dr. Ross leads a group of professionals to act to improve learning for each student at Chapin High School.”
“Akil Ross’ accomplishments illustrate just how important it is to invest in leadership as a means of improving student learning,” NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti remarked. “We are honored to recognize him as a powerful multiplier of effective practice and as a model of compassionate school leadership.”
Chapin High School is located in District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties, in the northwestern suburbs of Columbia. It serves approximately 1,315 students in grades 9–12. The school boasts a 97.7 percent school attendance rate and a 96 percent graduation rate. Of the 12 years that Ross has been a school administrator, he has spent 7 as principal of Chapin.
District Five Superintendent Dr. Stephen Hefner said, “Dr. Ross is most deserving of this high honor. He is a great visionary, an extraordinary leader, a highly skilled manager, and a phenomenal culture-builder. He is an excellent representative of our profession and will be a most effective spokesperson for public education on the national level.”
Ross holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Duke University and a doctorate in education from the University of South Carolina.
He joins a prestigious list of South Carolina colleagues previously honored as NASSP National Principal of the Year: Sharon Buddin of Columbia’s Ridge View High School in 2002, and Lucy Beckham of Wando High School in Charleston County in 2009.
The NASSP National Principal of the Year (POY) program annually recognizes outstanding middle level and high school principals who have made exemplary contributions to their profession and to their students’ learning. Each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity, and the U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Schools selects one principal to represent their state. Of these, three finalists are named as contenders for the award, with one being recognized as the NASSP National Principal of the Year.