Donna McGuire, an Inwood assistant principal and active school administrators union member, recently won a national award as an elementary school educational leader.

National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) included McGuire in its class of 28 National Outstanding Assistant Principals of the Year for her work at PS/IS 18.

McGuire said she’s the type of person who’s always looking for opportunities to grow as an educator. She first got involved in NAESP seeking quality professional development, and since has taken responsibilities leading programming within the organization.

Assistant principals are dealing with a list of educational challenges that have expanded since the pandemic, she said, ranging from how to motivate students, how to improve attendance and how to boost family engagement. In this climate, it’s increasingly valuable to take advantage of professional development offered by organizations like NAESP and unions like Council of Supervisor and Administrators.

“I think it’s very important for people to get involved. If we’re going to say that we are lifetime learners, we need to set that example and continue learning, continue connecting and continue pushing yourself,” McGuire said.

Her top accomplishments as an administrator have included winning over $4 million for schools in her Washington Heights district and discovering new resources. She said she’s constantly looking for new student programs in the arts or enrichment to partner with.

For McGuire, the NAESP programming complemented training she’s received through CSA, where she became an active member because she wanted to learn about how to do her job better.

“If I attend those meetings regularly and talk to others in the field, it helps me to understand better about my role and how to succeed at it,” McGuire said.

When she joined NAESP, she very quickly took on a leading role. She signed on to an online book study for women in leadership, and when the organization put out a call for one of the participants to coordinate and lead the class, McGuire volunteered.

“You’re supposed to grow leaders, and when you grow leaders, you grow yourself, right? So that’s what we did,” she said.

The experience that she took from the NAESP class is similar from what she’s gotten from CSA: “When I join an organization, I get a lot out of it personally and professionally, and it makes me wanna dig in deeper and learn more and be more connected to it.”

For the students at PS/IS 18 that means that they get the benefit of creative programming.

A key example of this for McGuire was the introduction of the International Soap Box Derby program to her students. She learned about the engineering program, which enlists students to build a mini motorless vehicle to be raced downhill, from a fellow NYC teacher.

She created a soapbox contest for the students as in-person classes were coming back from the pandemic, and it was a hit. She has continued the soapbox activities in years since, enrolling students in contests with other schools. This past year, one of her students won a category in the national contest, and earned a place in the international competition in Akron, Ohio. McGuire got expenses for her student and his entire family to spend a week traveling to the competition.

“These are programs that are good for kids — motivational. They get everyone excited, and it’s just another way that we can all be proud of our students, our school and our community,” she said.


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