Seymour Middle School principal receives state honor

Daniel Mendez, principal at Seymour Middle School, has been chosen as the 2022 Indiana Middle School Principal of the Year by the Indiana Association of School Principals.

Last summer, he also was District 9 Middle School Principal of the Year. District 9 is in south central Indiana and made up of Bartholomew, Brown, Jackson, Johnson, Lawrence, Monroe and Morgan counties.

Once the IASP selects the 12 district principals of the year at each level (elementary, middle and high school), they go through a selection process in the fall to identify the top Indiana principal of the year for elementary, middle and high school.

The recognition ceremony in November was part of the 2022 Principals of the Year Recognition Celebration, a part of IASP’s annual Fall Professional Conference hosted by state President Matt Shockley presiding along with Executive Director Todd Bess.

District principals of the year are elected by their peers. From these 12 district middle school principal winners, Mendez was chosen as the 2022 Indiana Middle School Principal of the Year.

IASP is a not-for-profit professional association serving more than 3,400 building-level administrators.

Terilyn Hoke, IASP membership and conference coordinator, said there were more than 100 nominations covering all three principal levels, and Mendez was chosen the district winner out of those and then was named the state winner.

“Two others received the award for elementary and high school principal of the year,” Hoke said. “We have a Blue Ribbon Committee who makes the choice (of the winners) from documents each nominee submits.”

She said as a state winner, Mendez received several things: A plaque, an apple award, a clock and funds to go to the national convention in Washington, D.C., to represent Indiana through the national principals of the year program.

Laci Skidmore, assistant principal at Seymour Middle School, said she believes Mendez was nominated and chosen for the state award because he builds his teachers’ professional capacity to grow students.

“Dr. Mendez focuses on professional development, professional learning commutes and instructional coaching to improve the outcomes for students,” Skidmore said. “He believes children’s circumstances do not dictate their outcome in life.”

She also said Mendez creates strong leaders who go on to make their schools and communities a better place for kids and embodies a whatever-it-takes attitude.

Mendez served as principal of Southport Elementary School for 10 years before taking on the role of director of secondary education for the Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township in 2017. Before becoming a principal, he taught at the middle school level for five years.

He also served as a lead peer coach for Indiana University’s Effective Leaders Academy from 2012 to 2016. In 2018, he became an educational leadership consultant for INcompassing Education. Then he became principal at Seymour Middle School in 2019.

Mendez, 45, said he knows so many great principals out there who have had a great impact on him, both professionally and personally, that it is hard to think of himself in that way.

“To be named state Middle School Principal of the Year is a tremendous honor, and I am deeply humbled by it,” he said.

Mendez said he’s fortunate to have a number of supporters who came to the ceremony in Indianapolis, including his wife, Bethany; son, Isaiah; daughter, Isa; mother, Angie; and father, Luis.

Seymour Community School Corp. Superintendent Brandon Harpe and Assistant Superintendent Lisa Ferguson also were there along with SMS assistant principals Laci Skidmore and D.J. Henkle, Counselor Meigan Vest, Instructional Coach Carmen Watkins and Student Services Administrative Assistant Megan Mullins.

He said after the announcement was made about his award, he had a number of staff congratulate him, and when he went to work, there was a big sign out front congratulating him.

“Teacher development is incorporated at Seymour Middle School by providing weekly embedded professional development and weekly professional learning community opportunities there,” Mendez said. “These are critical in supporting teachers to continue to grow their instructional capacity as well as having collaborative discussions and decision-making on how to best meet our students’ needs.”

He said the basic philosophy behind it is staff members need to continue to grow themselves in order to continue to grow students.

“Three things I believe are important for a middle school and its students to be successful are a belief that a student’s current circumstances don’t have to dictate their outcomes, an understanding that we are all a work in progress, none of us are a finished product and having a staff committed to doing whatever it takes for our students to grow academically, socially and emotionally,” Mendez said.

When asked how his parents reacted to the news of his state award, he said his mother was beaming with pride and even cried a little. His parents have always been his biggest supporters, Mendez said.

“I am very excited about going to Washington, D.C., for the recognition ceremony,” he said. “At that conference, they will announce the national principal of the year from among the state principals of the year.”

Mendez said it will be a privilege just to be in the room with so many great educational leaders from around the country. The trip will be in October.

“I was honored to be selected as the 2022 IASP Indiana Middle School Principal of the Year,” he said. “I share this distinction with all of those I currently work with as well as those I have worked with in the past. We accomplish nothing alone.”