Indian Land Middle School principal wins S.C. award

scetrone@heraldonline.comDecember 5, 2012 

— David McDonald, who has led Indian Land Middle School to accolades and rising student achievement, is South Carolina’s Middle School Principal of the Year.

Officials from the S.C. Association of School Administrators surprised McDonald with the announcement Wednesday.

The association annually awards an outstanding principal and assistant principal in elementary, middle and high school. Anyone can nominate an administrator for the honor.

McDonald, 33, was an assistant principal at the Lancaster County school when it served children in kindergarten through eighth grade. When it became a middle school for grades six to eight nearly six years ago, the former high school social studies teacher was tapped to lead.

Since then, standardized test scores have been climbing. Indian Land Middle’s rating on annual state report cards jumped from “average” to “excellent.”

About 600 students attend the school eight miles southeast of downtown Fort Mill.

McDonald views himself as “chief advocate for every child in this building.”

“I take that very seriously,” he said.

At the end of each nine weeks, he meets with struggling students to discuss grades and opportunities. With a guidance counselor, he created a club that takes those children on field trips to colleges around the state.

He launched a “second-chance cafe,” where students can make up tests and work that tripped them up.

Before report cards are sent out, McDonald takes them home and writes a personal note to every student. Some get kudos. Others get encouragement. Some get stern nudging.

McDonald relishes the work.

“I love middle school,” he said. “I love the drama. I love the fact that these kids are still young enough that everything excites them. But they’re old enough to understand why it excites them.”

In 2010, Indian Land Middle became one of 12 campuses among the state’s 250 middle schools to be named a “School to Watch.” The national award is given to middle schools that prove they engage adolescent minds and make students feel comfortable during a time in life that can be scary and confusing.

A team of evaluators vetted the school, interviewing staff, students and parents. They toured the campus, studied achievement data and visited every class twice.

That honor came on top of others, including a Red Carpet award, a Palmetto Silver Award, an S.C. School of Character award and a Promising Practices Character award.

The school’s success comes from a campus-wide effort.

But, educators said, McDonald sets the tone.

“His passion bubbles over to the teachers,” said Adam Wilson, a seventh-grade social studies teacher. “He elevates … the work that we do with his good work.”

McDonald supports the staff, said Virginia Sorrow, an assistant principal at Andrew Jackson Middle, who worked with McDonald for three years.

When teachers told him their schedules didn’t leave time for them to get together to strategize and plan lessons, Sorrow said, McDonald made it happen.

“He was able to find substitutes and get coverage so teachers could have those valuable meetings,” she said. His approach was adopted across the district.

While studying for her advanced degree in education administration, Sorrow said, instructors told her that a great principal is “someone who doesn’t manage but is a true instructional leader.”

“That’s David McDonald to a T,” she said.

Shawn Cetrone 803-329-4072

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