‘Gentle Authority’ — Powell principal receives award during Southside glow party

Posted 1/30/24

Southside Elementary School Principal Scott Schiller was presented the state’s top principal award Monday during an emotional celebration with students, staff, teachers and administrators.

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‘Gentle Authority’ — Powell principal receives award during Southside glow party


Southside Elementary School Principal Scott Schiller was presented the state’s top principal award Monday during an emotional celebration with students, staff, teachers and administrators.

Schiller was awarded the National Association of Elementary School Principals’ National Distinguished Principal Award by the Wyoming Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals (WAEMSP) after a panel of principals selected Schiller from four finalists for the award. The presentation was a surprise, as administrators planned and executed a ruse to get Schiller out of the school while an assembly was organized, complete with glow sticks and black lights to symbolize the school’s glowing approval of the selection.

With his 2-year-old grandson Atticus James in his arms, Schiller said while he received the award, the teachers and staff made it happen.

“It is my humble honor to receive this award on behalf of Southside and on behalf of the students and the teachers. And teachers, especially you. I want you to realize and I want you to understand, this is all about you,” he said as he wiped his misty eyes. “Thank you for the surprise. Thank you for making me cry — in front of everybody.”

The presentation was made by Kenny Jones, executive director of the WAEMSP. He said Schiller deserved the award “in every way.”

“He works for his people and provides them everything they need,” he said.

He said Southside being named a Blue Ribbon school twice in the past is evidence of the quality of Schiller’s leadership.

“First and foremost, he is here for the kids every day. And he loves it,” Jones said.

A Southside parent, who wishes to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns, wrote a letter to the board detailing how Schiller helped his child.

The parent said Schiller worked with and gained the trust of a child with behavioral issues and an underlying neurodevelopmental condition.
After a few years at the school, the transformation of the student was profound.

“Now in fifth grade, my son’s confidence in his education is at an all-time high. He says he wants to be a scientist so that he can go to school and keep learning forever. That would not have been his answer in first grade,” the parent wrote.

The letter continues, “He [Schiller] captivates a room of children with gentle authority earned through mutual respect. He leads from the floor, and not the office.”

The letter was an important statement in a very tight contest for the award.

“I think the tipping point for Scott’s application over the others was a parent letter from [the parent]. It brought all four committee members to tears,” Jones said.

Schiller has served in various roles throughout his career. He earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Wyoming in 1990 and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Wyoming in 2002. Schiller spent years as a teacher and assistant principal before becoming the school’s principal in 2012.

In his role as principal, “Schiller has built a remarkable commitment to using results for targeted interventions and enrichments. This commitment has resulted in prestigious awards, namely the 2013 National Title 1 Distinguished School Award and the 2014 and 2023 Blue Ribbon Schools Award, all acknowledging academic excellence. Southside has also been recognized as a Model Professional Learning Communities school on numerous occasions,” the WAEMSP said in a Monday morning press release.

Park County School District 1 Superintendent Jay Curtis and Assistant Superintendent Jason Sleep spoke on Schiller’s behalf, fighting through tears of joy to congratulate the principal. Curtis nominated Schiller for the award.

“Mr. Schiller’s leadership extends beyond the school walls, as he actively engages with the broader educational community. His participation in districtwide initiatives, professional associations and collaborative partnerships has contributed to the overall improvement of education in his school, our district and in our region. His passion for educational excellence and advocacy for students has left a lasting mark on the educational landscape of Powell,” Curtis said in his nomination.

At the assembly Curtis was emotional in his short speech.

“Mr. Schiller is the first one to pass any accolades on to the students and staff at Southside. And also the first one, when something has gone wrong, to say ‘I take responsibility,’” Curtis said while fighting back tears of joy.

He said he didn’t see Schiller’s 26-page application, which the principal was required to pen after the nomination, but that he bets Schiller gave all the credit to teachers and staff whowork with him.

“I would bet a lot of money that there were a lot of statements that ‘we do this,’ ‘we did this,’ and ‘our students did this’ and very, very, very few statements that said ‘I [did this]’, he said.

Sleep, who hired Schiller 19 years ago as his assistant principal and athletic director at Powell Middle School, echoed Curtis’ message.

“He is as humble as they come. He always gives credit to others and he never takes it for himself,” Sleep said.

Also on hand for the award presentation was Dave Hardesty, last year’s winner from the Laramie school system. Schiller will travel to Washington, D.C. in October to be honored by the national association.