It's been all good news for Huff Elementary School lately. The school received the National Blue Ribbon School award for high student achievement earlier this year, and now has one more accolade of which to be proud.
Huff Principal Heidi Smith received the 2015 Terrel H. Bell award, making her one of only seven principals in the nation to receive the award this year. The award recognizes principals for playing a vital role in student achievement, even under frequently challenging circumstances, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Smith was selected, in part, because of her passion for social justice and equity at the school, according to the Department of Education's website. She ditched Huff's Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program in favor of "Enrichment for All," a new program that extends elective classes and activities to all students at the school.
"Since the transition, student morale has improved, as have students' oral presentations and critical thinking skills. Achievement gaps have narrowed, and the program has fostered a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all students," according to the website.
On Friday morning last week, Smith visited one classroom after another, greeting the students and checking on the lesson plans of the day. She said she started doing the classroom visits to get a good look at what activities are going on at the school, and to log how rigorous the learning objectives are from day to day. But she said it doesn't take much to encourage teachers to go the extra mile.
"They love what they do. It never feels like they need motivation -- they're always looking for solutions and improvements," Smith said.
Another one of Smith's goals is to promote what she called "STEW," a play on the typical science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum, that injects writing into the mix. She said any time students are working on science or math, they keep a journal to catalog what they learned and put it into writing.
When she found out she had been selected for the national award, Smith said she was thrilled.
"That was very cool. To be one of seven leaders in the nation, it's humbling," she said.
Colleen McCullough, a second-grade teacher at Huff, said Smith always has the students' interests in mind, and has offered plenty of support to the teaching staff as well. She has an open-door policy for teachers and is always ready to listen to new ideas, she said.
"She is easy to work with, and is always open to our opinions and feedback," McCullough said.
Huff PTA board member Claire Quesnel-Oueini commended Smith for rallying parents and staff, who all come from very different backgrounds and experiences, under the common goal of doing what's best for the students at the school.
Smith joined the district as Huff's new principal in 2012, and relocated from her home in New York. At the time, former superintendent Craig Goldman called Smith a "gem" that they would've missed had their search not included out-of-state applicants.
Goldman told the Voice that he was very excited to hear that Smith had received the Terrel H. Bell award. Smith has both the vision and leadership skills to take on any challenges she faces as principal of the school, he said.
"It was a wonderful day when she decided to join the Mountain View Whisman community," Goldman said in an email.
The awardees, including Smith, will be honored at the annual National Blue Ribbon School ceremony on Nov. 9 and 10 in Washington D.C.