Published July 2, 2015
The top elementary principal in New York State this year is a graduate of the University at Buffalo’s LIFTS administrative education-and-mentoring program, the second consecutive year a LIFTS graduate has been honored as principal of the year.
Charles Smilinich, who was principal of Colonial Village Elementary School in the Niagara Wheatfield Central School District from 2011 through the end of the current school year, was chosen as 2015 New York State Elementary Principal of the Year by the 7,200-member School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS) and the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
Smilinich, who is now working in the Williamsville School District, graduated from UB’s LIFTS program in spring 2007. He received a bachelor’s degree in sociology, master’s degree in elementary education and advanced certification in educational leadership, all from UB.
Smilinich’s award follows the honor given to 2000 LIFTS graduate Annie Metcalf, principal of North Collins Junior-Senior High School, who was named New York State’s High School Principal of the Year in 2014. Metcalf received her award from SAANYS and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
“School leaders are all too often under-appreciated for the important work they do,” says Stephen L. Jacobson, UB Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy in the Graduate School of Education.
“That’s why I’m delighted when fantastic principals like Ann and Charles are recognized for their contributions to public education. They do their school communities and UB proud.”
The LIFTS — Leadership Initiative for Tomorrow’s Schools — program is an administrative education-and-mentoring program designed to reach out to local schools in a very real way: by training better administrators and encouraging them to return to their home districts to put their new skills to use, all for the sake of the students.
Colonial Village Elementary School, the school where Smilinich served as principal for four years, is a school with a family poverty rate of nearly 70 percent. Lynn Marie Fusco, a former superintendent of Niagara Wheatfield schools, says Smilinich “transformed the school into a well-managed, community-oriented hub of student and family learning,” creating an “environment where school pride abounds, and students and teachers feel safe, secure, and valued."
Without an assistant principal to help, Smilinich changed a “disillusioned, spirally downward elementary school into a school of hope and vision,” according to Cynthia Broughton, a teacher at Colonial Village. “His leadership is just short of a miracle.”
Metcalf also is a three-time UB graduate, receiving a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in education and school counseling, and a certificate of advanced studies in school counseling and school district administration from the university.
Metcalf has been the principal of North Collins Junior-Senior High School since 2005. She has been described as a warm, motivational and transformational leader who has created a revitalized educational environment at North Collins emphasizing collaboration, responsibility, and tolerance and respect for all. Under her leadership, what once was considered a low-performing school is now a school that was selected as a Reward School for Educational Excellence by New York State. In 2013, the school was ranked as a Silver Medal school by U.S. News and World Reports.
The LIFTS program, a select program that typically accepts only 10-15 aspiring administrators a year, has what Jacobson describes as an “amazing” record of accomplished educators, many of whom now are active education advocates and leaders in local schools. Key design features of the program include a cohort model in which LIFTS students work together in teams that focus on real problems of school practice, while learning to articulate their core educational values, analyze and interpret data, and work collaboratively with parents and the school community.
The Sweet Home School District, for example, has four elementary schools, all of which are led by LIFTS graduates, according to Jacobson.
Additional information about LIFTS can be found on the Graduate School of Education’s website.